CLEMSON — Does Littlejohn Coliseum have an upset in it this season?
Close, but just not quite there has been the calling card of 2012-13 Tiger basketball, as Clemson (13-13, 5-9 ACC) has held late second-half leads as a home underdog in losses to Miami (current AP No. 5), Arizona (No. 11) and N.C. State.
Thursday night, before a sellout crowd, is their last real chance, as Clemson plays host to a streaking UNC (19-8, 9-5) in a 7:02 p.m. tip (televised on ESPN).
The Tar Heels have won three-straight, all by double-digits, after taking No. 3 Duke to wire on the road previously.
Clemson freshman guard Jordan Roper says playing a team with the basketball history of North Carolina in the ACC was a draw in recruiting, but beating them and creating a different legacy was the primary goal.
"That was a main factor (in coming to Clemson), playing against some of the best competition," Roper said, "but another thing was trying to make Clemson one of the best schools … I think we have great talent and can play with anybody."
Under Brownell, Clemson has toppled four conference teams with better records and one ranked (Virginia, last season) at home.
Against top-25 opponents his team is actually plus-one in scoring margin — the three losses by 11 points combined (including 64-62 to UNC in 2010-11).
This season, the Tigers have averaged almost 11 more points per game at home than on the road, and defensively, have held opponents to a stingy 55.7 points per (about nine less than allowed on the road).
With a noticeably smaller lineup than recent years, UNC has a trio leading scoring in guard P.J. Hairston (14.1 ppg in ACC play) and forwards Reggie Bullock (14.9) and James Michael McAdoo (14.7).
Completing the starting five, guards Marcus Paige, a freshman, and Dexter Strickland, a fifth-year senior, combine to make the Tar Heels the league’s best in steals and assists.
"The smaller lineup for them has been really good. It allows them to stretch the court," Brownell said. "…The other thing the smaller lineup does is allow two guys — Strickland and Paige — (you) almost have two point guards on the floor who have great pace, so the ball is coming at you unbelievably fast.
"They’re as good as anybody I’ve seen at finishing in transition."
Hairston has scored 20-plus points in two of the last four games (29 against Virginia; 23 at Duke) and McAdoo posted a double-double at Georgia Tech recently, with 22 points and 13 rebounds.
Clemson’s marquee scorer of late has been the freshman Roper, averaging 12.3 points per in the last six games and 18 in the last two home games.
Brownell says confidence hasn’t been an issue with Roper from the start, but he is starting to hit a stride.
"I think he’s a little more comfortable in different spots," said Brownell. "(He has) a little better feel of what to do. And just being out there longer, understanding our confidence in him to make some plays, has allowed him to not second-guess or think about things and go be aggressive when he has opportunities."
Expect fellow freshman guard Adonis Filer to see the court more as well, after scoring seven with four assists and no turnovers in 20 minutes last time out at Maryland.
The Tar Heels have won three times on the road in the ACC this season, at Florida State (77-72), Boston College (82-70) and Georgia Tech (70-58).
When seeing Carolina blue unis senior forward Milton Jennings has been on, averaging almost double-digits (9.6) over his career in only five meetings.
A Clemson win would break a run of four-straight UNC wins, stretching back to an 83-64 Tigers romp in Littlejohn in 2010.