When Clemson got back from its 26-point loss to Duke last Saturday, Brad Brownell asked his team to meet him in the Coliseum Club at Littlejohn Coliseum.
It was not an unusual request. They usually meet there after every road game for just a few minutes. However, this time was different.
Brownell spoke with his team for about 90 minutes. And though Brownell said, “It wasn’t anything revolutionary.” His players felt differently.
The loss was the Tigers’ fourth in the five games and all four losses were by wide margins. Besides the 26-point loss to the Blue Devils, Clemson was beat by 35 points to Virginia, 18 points to Georgia Tech and 19 points to Florida State.
“He questioned our effort, grit and intensity and that’s something you don’t like as a man,” said senior Aamir Simms. “I think a lot of guys took that personally. He challenged us about our integrity, fight and grit, and I think our whole team responded really well.”
The Tigers responded alright.
Clemson used a dominant first half performance on both the defensive and offensive ends of the court in the first half and then got 16 second half points from Hunter Tyson to knock off North Carolina, 63-50, at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson.
“We just had to talk about some things,” Brownell said. “I was really disappointed with how we played at Duke. Everybody has stretches like that, but we really buckled.”
But no one was buckling against the Tar Heels (11-6, 6-4 ACC). From the start the Tigers were playing with confidence, poise, and aggressiveness. The energy level went up from the start after Alex Hemenway drove the lane for a dunk for the Tigers’ first points of the night.
Clemson (11-5, 5-5 ACC) led by as many as 16 points in the first half and controlled just about every part of the game. Tyson led the way with 16 points, while Clyde Trapp scored 14 points and had nine rebounds. Simms added 10 points, had six assists and six rebounds.
Though UNC is known as a much bigger team than Clemson, the Tigers outscored the Tat Heels 26-18 in the paint and was only down 6-5 in second chance points. Clemson limited UNC to a season-low seven offensive rebounds. The first time all season the Tar Heels failed to get at least 10 rebounds in a game.
“We knew we haven’t been playing our best basketball and we wanted to get back to being us,” Trapp said. “Everybody focused on what we had to do, and what we usually do, so that was the focus.”
What Clemson usually does is play defense. The Tigers forced 10 turnovers in the first half and held the Tar Heels to 38.6 percent shooting overall. North Carolina finished the night with 17 turnovers, which the Tigers converted into 13 points.
“We knew coming in we would have to really grind it out on defense,” Tyson said. “Coach really emphasized that, and it wasn’t one person. We all came together and stopped them as a team.”
The Tar Heels rallied in the second half and pulled within four points a couple of times. But they could get no closer, as Clemson poured it on late for their third win in the last four games over UNC.
“Tremendous win, North Carolina has been playing good basketball and our guys were really ready,” Brownell said. “I thought we competed well, and they played with great physicality. We really covered all the areas tonight. We only turned it over seven times and held them to seven offensive rebounds. I am just proud of the physicality with which we played and Clyde and Aamir played like seniors.”
The Tigers will host Syracuse on Saturday. Tipoff is set for 2 p.m., and will be televised by the ACCN.
Note: Clemson’s home game against Georgia Tech has been moved up a day to Friday, Feb. 12 and will tip at 8 p.m. on the ACCN at Littlejohn Coliseum.