January 18, 2011
Surely, this had to be the year the Tigers end more than eight decades of frustration and win in Chapel Hill for the first time, right? No, of course not.
Even a North Carolina team lacking a dependable veteran point guard, an elite scoring wing or burly, physical big men still managed to avoid the ignominy of losing to Clemson at home. The Tar Heels held the Tigers to two points during the final 7:45 to emerge with a 75-65 victory, dropping Clemson's all-time record in Chapel Hill to an astonishing 0-for-55 for those sadistic enough to still be keeping score.
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Although other teams have endured similar struggles against conference foes, few have lasted longer than Clemson's run of futility at North Carolina. The best Brown team in recent memory snapped a 52-game road losing streak at Ivy League power Princeton in 2003, while Washington State broke a 47-game road losing streak at UCLA against a rebuilding Bruins team in 2004.
Clemson has played a handful of close games at North Carolina, though not nearly as many as you'd think considering the series in Chapel Hill dates back to before the Great Depression.
In Matt Doherty's forgettable final season at North Carolina in 2003, Clemson squandered a late lead, missed a game-tying three in the final seconds and lost 68-66. Then in 2008, North Carolina rallied from a late 11-point deficit, winning in double overtime only after Clemson missed a layup with two seconds left in regulation.
It looked as though Clemson might have a chance to keep the outcome in doubt until the final possession once more on Tuesday night, but then the burden of carrying King Kong on their shoulders seemed to finally weigh down the Tigers.
After Demontez Stitt sank a three to cap a 10-point Clemson rally and tie the game at 63 with 7:45 remaining, the Tigers managed only one bucket the rest of the game. Unable to generate any interior scoring the whole night against North Carolina's frontline, Clemson suddenly also went cold from the perimeter and committed a few costly turnovers as well.
The late defensive surge wasn't the only bright spot for North Carolina.
Reggie Bullock scored 16 first-half points and emerged from his shooting slump. Harrison Barnes scored 13 points including the go-ahead second-half three-pointer. And Roy Williams finally relented to common sense and started Kendall Marshall at point guard, though ironically it was Larry Drew III who actually was more productive against the Tigers.
All in all, it was a decent bounce-back effort from the Tar Heels. Was there ever a doubt considering their opponent?