Clemson had its shot to beat No. 5 North Carolina on Saturday, but Coby White and Garrison Brooks had other plans.
As Tigers’ guard Shelton Mitchell raced down the floor following a missed free throw by Kenny Williams with 9.1 seconds to go, he went straight for the basket. But White and Brooks met the Clemson senior at the top of the foul line where White stripped him of the basketball and Brooks took the ball and alertly threw it down the court.
Clemson’s Clyde Trapp got the ball near his own three-point line and threw the ball towards the UNC goal, but it was way too tall as UNC hung on for an 81-79 victory at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson.
Mitchell laid on the floor stunned, while the Clemson bench was in disbelief. It marked the fourth time this season the Tigers lost on the last play of the game. They lost on the last play at NC State, at Miami and at Louisville earlier this year.
White led all scorers with 29 points, while Cameron Johnson added 19 points.
North Carolina (24-5, 14-2 ACC) won the game despite head coach Roy Williams leaving the game due a vertigo attack late in the first half. The longtime coach had to be carried off the floor and did not return.
Marcquise Reed led the Tigers with 24 points on 10 of 16 shooting, while Elijah Thomas added 14 points and had 11 rebounds for his eighth double-double of the season.
Clyde Trapp, who scored 15 points in the place of starter David Skara, made a triple from the left corner with 39.3 seconds to play to keep the Tigers close at 78-75. Skara did not play after injuring his elbow at Pittsburgh earlier this week.
After a White miss for the Tar Heels, Trapp then went to the foul line in a one-and-one situation with 18 seconds to go and made both free throws to cut the lead to one, 78-77.
Kenny Williams then made two foul shots with 12.7 seconds to play for the Tar Heels and then missed the second of two free throws with 9.1 seconds to go, following two Mitchell free throws that again pulled the Tigers within one point.
Williams’ second missed free throw at 81-79, set up the final frantic seconds of the game.
With the loss, the Tigers (17-12, 7-9 ACC) have to win at Notre Dame on Wednesday and then again next Saturday at home against Syracuse to have a shot at earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Clemson fell behind 46-37 early in the second half when Johnson drained a 3-pointer with 18:22 to play.
However, the Tar Heels went cold, while the Tigers heated up. Playing inspired defense that forced two turnovers and held UNC to 0-for-7 shooting during a seven-minute span, Clemson went on a 17-2 run to take a 54-48 lead following a Reed jumper in the paint.
The Tar Heels answered with an 8-0 run of their own to retake the lead.
Clemson trailed 39-35 at the break, though it led the majority of the first half. But White scored 17 first half points, including 14 of UNC’s first 16 to start the game.