If Clemson hopes to avoid consecutive losses, it must win where it’s never won.
In Wednesday’s ACC matchup, the 10th-ranked Tigers (16-1, 2-1) travel to No. 5 North Carolina (16-2, 2-2), where they have dropped a staggering 53 in a row— the nation’s longest road losing streak against one opponent.
“It’s a tough place for us to go bounce back,” Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. “But it is a good opportunity for us as well to show we’re a good team. We’re resilient.”
Clemson nearly broke its skid last season in a 103-93 double-overtime loss on Feb. 10. The Tigers led by as much as 15 in the second half and by 11 in the final three minutes of regulation, but the Tar Heels launched a furious rally, then pulled away in the second extra period.
Clemson, which has lost nine straight overall to North Carolina, saw its unbeaten start to the season end Saturday in a 78-68 loss to current No. 1 Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons held Clemson to season-low 33.8 percent shooting from the field, including 21.7 percent from 3-point range.
“We are a good team that didn’t play well and didn’t stick to the plan,” Purnell said. “We haven’t had a loss to learn from yet this season, and sometimes they listen better after a loss than wins.”
In winning consecutive games, the Tar Heels have seemed to bounce back from its two straight losses to open ACC play, although they had a shaky start in Saturday’s 82-65 win over visiting Miami.
North Carolina trailed by nine early before going on a 13-0 run to end the first half, and the Tar Heels turned it into a rout behind Wayne Ellington’s 23 second-half points and career-high seven 3-pointers.
Ellington entered Saturday’s game shooting a career-low 43.2 percent and having missed 15 of his last 23 shots. The junior guard said the performance against the Hurricanes should put him back on track “for the rest of the season.”
“I just continued to have faith and confidence in my shot. I knew sooner or later it was going to come,” Ellington said. “I feel like now that I’m in the groove.”
Reigning national player of the year Tyler Hansbrough has stayed in his groove and leads the ACC with 22.9 points per game. His team-leading 24 points Saturday marked the 11th time in the last 12 games he has scored 20 or more.
Ellington’s 24 points and Hansbrough’s 18 points and 11 rebounds led the Tar Heels to a second straight ACC tournament title last season with an 86-81 victory over Clemson in Charlotte. Hansbrough also scored a career-high 39 points in the Feb. 10 thriller, and Ellington had a career-high 36 in a 90-88 overtime victory at Clemson on Jan. 6.
Ellington averaged 29.3 points against the Tigers last season.
Clemson, which led at halftime in all three losses to North Carolina last season, got 28 points and six 3-pointers from K.C. Rivers in the ACC championship. In his past three meetings with the Tar Heels, Rivers has averaged 22.0 points and shot 14-for-27 from behind the arc.
Last season’s defeats to North Carolina are among a string of 18 straight defeats to Top 5 opponents for Clemson. The Tigers have a 1-35 mark against those teams over the last 12 seasons, while the Tar Heels have split their last eight games versus Top 10 foes.
North Carolina leads the all-time series 121-19.