Clemson felt the environment at home was a key to its last victory. A hostile atmosphere there would certainly prove useful against its next opponent.
Needing a high-profile victory to boost their NCAA tournament chances, the Tigers look to notch a rare win over No. 20 North Carolina on Saturday.
Clemson (17-7, 6-4 ACC) is seeking to reach a fourth straight NCAA tournament, and its first under new coach Brad Brownell. The Tigers are in fourth place in the ACC, but that may not be good enough for a berth since the conference has been mediocre with only two ranked teams.
“You can’t help thinking about it,” guard Andre Young said. “But you can’t do it too much or you lose focus. We have to take it one game at a time and build up our resume right now.”
A win over North Carolina (17-6, 7-2) would certainly help. The Tigers have lost 11 of their last 12 meetings with the Tar Heels, falling to 0-55 all-time in Chapel Hill with a 75-65 loss Jan. 18.
Clemson should be in better position to beat North Carolina at home, where it’s 13-1. The Tigers shot 52.9 percent and led by as many as 17 points in Tuesday’s 77-69 home win over Boston College.
“I was really excited tonight that with 10 seconds left on the shot clock, on several occasions, our fans stood up and cheered,” Brownell said. “It shows that they saw a good team playing and how hard it was for us to guard them, and they appreciated the effort that our guys were giving.”
Littlejohn Coliseum was short of capacity Wednesday but is expected to be sold out for this visit by the Tar Heels. North Carolina lost 83-64 last season at Clemson.
“It’s tough for teams to win here because we play with a lot more energy, we play with a lot more focus,” Tigers guard Demontez Stitt said.
The youthful Tar Heels could be affected by playing on the road, judging by their 79-73 loss at No. 5 Duke on Wednesday. North Carolina led 43-29 at halftime only to shoot 37.5 percent and miss all six 3-pointers after the break.
“We didn’t get the shots we wanted,” said coach Roy Williams, whose team’s six losses have all come away from Chapel Hill. “I’ve got to do a better job of getting the guys to be more poised.”
The Tar Heels had their five-game win streak snapped and missed a chance to move atop the ACC. Freshman Harrison Barnes had nine points on 3-of-8 shooting after averaging 22.7 on 56.5 percent shooting over his previous three games.
Barnes has been susceptible to poorer play on the road, averaging 12.1 points on 36.8 percent shooting. He’s averaged 16.8 points and shot 51.0 percent in four ACC home games.
North Carolina turned in its best ACC defensive performance in last month’s win over Clemson, limiting the Tigers to 35.2 percent shooting. No Clemson player scored more than 11 points.
“The first time we played them, they played well,” Stitt said. “For us, it was hard for us to execute. They were active defensively, they were in the passing lanes, they disrupted us a lot.”