CLEMSON – Same song, 127th verse – and it’s sad music to the ears of Clemson fans, players and coaches.
Despite two big-time performances by players wearing white North Carolina came into Littlejohn Coliseum on Thursday and did what it normally does against the Tigers on the basketball court – win.
Devin Booker had an outstanding game for Clemson, pumping in 25 points (21 in the second half) and grabbing 11 rebounds. Milton Jennings, meanwhile, was good for 12 points and 10 boards. Still, their double-doubles weren’t enough in a 68-59 UNC win before 9,778 fans.
The combined efforts of the seniors were mostly negated by 15 turnovers, poor guard play and an inability to take advantage of a sloppy showing by Roy Williams’ team over the final 20 minutes.
“Devin played very well and Milton played pretty well, but our guard play was very poor,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “Our young guards just didn’t play well. They made a lot of poor decisions.”
While the Tiger big men did all they could do to give the home team a rare win over their border rivals North Carolina countered with five double figure scorers in improving to 20-8 overall and 10-5 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Clemson falls to 13-14, 5-10.
“We’re happy to get an ACC win on the road but, boy, we finished the game about as ugly as you could,” said Williams, fighting a hacking cough during the postgame interview. “In the second half we played about like how I feel, which is not good.”
“North Carolina played really well … maybe as well as anybody that has come into our building … maybe Purdue played better,” Brownell said. “They’re playing at an extremely high level and confident. We got beat by a better basketball team clearly tonight.”
The lopsided series now stands at 127-20 in favor of the cagers from Tobacco Road, who have won five consecutive games against the Tigers and 15 of the last 16.
The Tar Heels made it clear from the outset they were going to make the Tigers try to keep up with them shot for shot, and for a time Brad Brownell’s team was able to do just that.
Thanks to threes by Jordan Roper and Jennings Clemson stayed close in the early going, and a Damarcus Harrison layup at the 10:36 mark knotted the score at 18-all.
But UNC answered with back to back 3-pointers from Leslie McDonald and the visitors outscored the hosts scored 20-4 down the stretch to grab a comfortable 38-24 advantage at intermission.
“We were playing defense real timid,” Jennings said. “That allowed them to get off to a good start and we just didn’t come out with the kind of intensity we needed.”
North Carolina put up 15 threes in the first 20 minutes, making six of them.
Booker went off on UNC in the second half but the Tigers couldn’t dig out of the hole they had created for themselves.
“I got a couple of cheap fouls in the first half but in the second I was just able to play my game,” Booker said. “Early on they just weren’t missing any shots. They hit I don’t know how many in a row and we couldn’t take advantage of them in the second half.”
Dexter Strickland led North Carolina with 16 points, followed by Reggie Bullock (12), James McAdoo (11), P.J. Hairston (11) and Marcus Paige (10).
Clemson won the rebounding battle, 39-30.
“We got a good start early and the crowd never really got in the game,” Williams said. “Early in the second half we got some breakaway layups that helped us. But take away layups and we didn’t shoot well. And they killed us rebounding.
“They were going after the ball we were acting like a bunch of pansies. When you go small you have to have guys who will compete for the ball.”
The Tigers have a quick turnaround with a road trip to Virginia Tech on Saturday.
“This time of year guys’ legs are heavy,” Brownell said. “We had to play our smaller guys a lot because we just had some guys who couldn’t go.”