With its offense scuffling a bit, North Carolina is starting to pick up the pace on the defensive end of the court.
That surely doesn’t bode well for Clemson, which was likely already dreading a trip to Chapel Hill.
Hoping to keep pace in the race for the ACC regular-season crown, the eighth-ranked Tar Heels try to improve to 56-0 at home against the Tigers on Saturday.
North Carolina (22-4, 9-2) leads Division I with 83.1 points per game, but has gone cold from the field over its last two contests - shooting 36.8 percent.
The Tar Heels have managed to overcome that anemic shooting with stifling defense. Four days after quieting then-No. 19 Virginia 70-52, North Carolina stymied Miami on Wednesday, holding the Hurricanes scoreless for almost five minutes down the stretch while coming from behind for a 73-64 road win.
“It was one of those wins you have to have to have a fantastic year,” coach Roy Williams said. “It was a tough win, it was an ugly win in some ways. To be able to grit it out defensively - we did some better things there. That’s a huge benefit to win games when you play ugly.”
“Defensively we can be a very good team,” said center Tyler Zeller, who scored just nine points Wednesday but also had eight rebounds, three steals and a block. “We can win games in the 50s and 60s. And when we start making shots, hopefully we can win by a bigger margin.”
North Carolina has won all 55 home matchups in its history with Clemson (13-12, 5-6), many of them lopsided. The Tar Heels have outscored the Tigers by an average of 17.9 points over the last six meetings at the Smith Center.
While North Carolina has also won 13 of 14 in the series overall, its last two victories over Clemson - one on the road and the other in last year’s ACC tournament - came by a combined seven points.
Clemson is seeking its first three-game winning streak of the season and its first in ACC play since Feb. 10-20, 2010. After prevailing 78-58 at Wake Forest last Saturday, the Tigers upset Virginia 60-48 at home Tuesday.
Clemson limited Virginia to a 3-of-16 (18.8 percent) effort from 3-point range and forced 18 turnovers. Offensively, starting guards Tanner Smith and Andre Young led the way with 13 points apiece while big man Devin Booker added 10.
While the Tigers are well aware of their lack of success at North Carolina, they’re not acting intimidated.
“This is just another game. You can’t let it get to you,” Young told Clemson’s official website. “It is important that we stick together as a team, especially on the road.”
Coach Brad Brownell knows his Tigers will have their hands full.
“They are certainly the most talented team in the league and one of the more talented teams in the country,” Brownell said. ” … It will be a tremendous challenge for us to try and slow them down. And in the end, if the Tigers hope to win in Chapel Hill, that will be the only thing that matters, not any streak.”