CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson stood toe to toe with No. 14 North Carolina for 45 minutes, but in the end the Tar Heels’ superior size and lopsided rebound margin propelled the visitors to an 89-86 victory in front of a raucous Littlejohn Coliseum crowd on Tuesday. The win pushed UNC to 13-3 on the season, 1-1 in league play. Clemson fell to 11-3 overall, also 1-1 in the ACC. The Tigers saw their nine-game winning streak come to an end in heartbreaking fashion.
Marcquise Reed hit a game-tying three-point goal with 22 seconds left in regulation, but Avry Holmes missed a free throw in the final five seconds with a chance to put the Heels away for good. Clemson had battled back from a late 75-67 deficit, only to see the Tar Heels impose their will in the extra period.
Jaron Blossomgame led two 20-point scorers for the Tigers with a team-high 24. He added seven rebounds and a pair of blocks. Holmes also scored 20, his highest output since the second game of the season. Reed poured in 17 off the bench, continuing his hot play of late. But UNC’s Joel Berry had the answer in the second half, scoring 21 of his game-high 31 in the final 20 minutes. Berry’s 31 were a career high.
The Tigers posted 43 points in an exciting opening half, with Clemson taking a five-point lead into the locker room. Blossomgame was outstanding, with 14 points, but he was far from alone. Reed came in and heated up with nine off the bench. He hit a step-back three-point shot late in the half to put the Tigers up by five. Clemson held UNC in check somewhat offensively, but a 12-0 advantage in second chance points was critical to the Tar Heels’ opening half. The Heels ended the game 23-3 in second chance opportunities.
Carolina took hold in the second half behind the ridiculously hot shooting of Berry. He made eight consecutive field goals at one point, including five three-pointers, as he gave UNC a 75-67 lead. But Holmes answered with a three of his own, followed by a driving bucket that cut into the Heels’ edge. Clemson had a chance after Reed’s tying three, when Sidy Djitte knocked the ball loose from Berry. Holmes was fouled in transition, but unable to come up with the point the Tigers needed to move ahead. Berry then missed a layup as the final buzzer of regulation sounded.
The Tigers head off on the road for a pair of ACC tilts, starting Saturday at 3 p.m. against No. 21 Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.
Clemson Head Coach Brad Brownell
“Terrific game. Great plays were made by players on both teams. I’m proud of my guys for the way we competed and fought. We had a chance to win; we just didn’t get it done. Certainly, rebounding and dribble penetration were the problems for us defensively. We didn’t guard dribble penetration well enough. Sometimes, that created help situations, and in those situations against North Carolina, you’re in trouble on the glass. Offensive rebounds were probably the difference.”
On his team’s overall play:
“Offensively, I thought we played a great first half. I thought we really moved the ball. I thought we made shots. In the second half, we weren’t quite as good. Our defense was good in terms of activity level. We got deflections. We got some steals. We did some things to be disruptive, but we weren’t very sound in terms of individual on-ball defense.”
Thoughts moving forward in ACC play:
“I like our team. It’s a great league, and these are the kind of games you’re going to be in. You’re going to have to win a bunch of close games. Guys need to make shots, make plays and get big defensive stops. Certainly, I like this team. I like the way we’re playing and competing. But this is a great league. We’re going to go to Notre Dame next, so another Top 25 team is par for the course.”
North Carolina Head Coach Roy Williams
“Needless to say, we feel a heck of a lot better than we did on Saturday. That was a heck of a college basketball game, ACC game, that went right down to the wire. I thought we had some chances to get more than a one-possession lead and we missed a couple of free throws and had a couple of turnovers and Clemson kept coming back. They were really something. [Jaron] Blossomgame starts off the overtime, jumped up with his left shoulder which we know is his favorite move and we still couldn’t stop it. But I was really pleased with Joel Berry, except for the turnovers. He had two crucial turnovers that you don’t like, but man, oh, man, did he make some big time shots for us. There’s no question about that.
“Kennedy [Meeks] was big on the boards, 10 offensive rebounds, and the rebound margin was 51-32, and second chance points 23-3. We have more size than they do, and I think that was a big factor in the game. Both teams made plays. We had them down six or eight, and they came storming back and made some shots. Marcquise [Reed] stepped into a big time three-pointer. We were on the line for the 1-and-1, in a three-point game and missed it, and he went down just as calm as you can and jumps up and knocks a three in. Then, they missed a free throw with five seconds to play. We go down and Joel [Berry] gets a very tough shot, and it would have been fine for that one to go in, but his shooting [was crucial]. Kenny Williams made a big basket for us in overtime. Then he stepped up and made two big free throws before Kennedy made a big play on the out-of-bounds to throw it deep for us.”
On Kenny Williams’ performance in overtime:
“He missed one right in front of our bench, but he made the big one. I think he made the first basket or the second basket of overtime after they had taken the two-point lead, and came up with some loose balls. He had four rebounds, only one on the offensive end. But he did step up and make the two free throws and made it look like he had been there and done that before.”