2014 home Heels don't want to be first to fall to Clemson
North Carolina players who hosted opponents in the Tin Can and Woollen Gym, every Tar Heel who played under Dean Smith, the group that suffered through the 8-20 season under Matt Doherty and the 2010 team that missed the NCAA Tournament under Roy Williams all have at least one thing in common — they all beat Clemson in Chapel Hill.
Heading into today’s game at the Smith Center (6 p.m., ESPNU), the Tigers are a combined 0-56 at UNC. Tar Heel sophomore forward Brice Johnson said he doesn’t want the first loss to happen on his watch.
“Just knowing that past guys and past teams before me have been keeping the streak going, they’ve been beating Clemson every year ever since they came to Chapel Hill,” Johnson said. “We want to keep it going, just keep the tradition going around here.”
It’s the longest home winning streak against one team in NCAA history, and one that hasn’t been challenged much recently — only three of the last 26 meetings at UNC went to overtime or were decided by single digits. But Williams said he never brings it up with his team, and he doesn’t expect it to have any bearing in the outcome today.
“All those psychological things that people talk about, they’re really good for warm-ups,” Williams said. “After that, your butt better play.”
In fact, both rosters have almost completely turned over since the last time Clemson played in the Smith Center, a 74-52 UNC win on Feb. 18, 2012. Current juniors James Michael McAdoo, Desmond Hubert and Jackson Simmons combined for 17 minutes for UNC (senior Leslie McDonld was redshirting), while Rod Hall and K.J. McDaniels played a combined 24 minutes for Clemson.
The Tigers (13-5, 4-2 ACC) and the Tar Heels (11-7, 1-4) have opened conference play on opposite tracks. Clemson won four of its first five games for only the third time in the 60-year history of the ACC — including a 72-59 win over Duke — while UNC started 1-4 for only the second time.
Still, both teams are coming off bad losses. The Tigers suffered their most lopsided defeat of the season Tuesday in a 76-43 loss at Pitt, while the Tar Heels trailed by 23 late in a 76-61 loss to Virginia on Monday.
“We played on Monday night and got our tails kicked and they played on Tuesday night and got their tails kicked,” Williams said.
Clemson got off to its winning start with defense. Behind 6-6 forward K.J. McDaniels, who leads the team in scoring (16.4) and rebounds (7.0) and leads the ACC in blocks (2.7), the Tigers lead the nation in fewest points allowed (54.8) and are fourth in opponent’s field-goal percentage (37.2) That could be an issue for UNC, which has struggled to score in conference play and is shooting 40.1 percent from the field, including 22.7 percent from behind the arc.
During his six days between games, Williams said the team has focused on using screens, feeding the post, and scoring inside in order to improve offensive production. But, as typical for a struggling team, he pointed out that they’ve continued to work on everything.
“There’s not one thing that we’re doing that I’m satisfied with,” Williams said. “There is no phase of the game that we haven’t continued to work on, even from a technical aspect. The sense of urgency is still the greatest thing that I’ve talked about, and I’m sure I’ve used the word focus, as well. We have to do everything better.”