It’s probably no longer appropriate to call Clemson’s historic run of futility at North Carolina a mere losing streak.
At this point it’s simply a law of nature that the Tigers will never win in Chapel Hill.
North Carolina added to one of the most remarkable records in college basketball on Tuesday night when it defeated Clemson at home for the 59th time in 59 meetings. The best Tigers team in years sank 15 consecutive shots during one second-half stretch and cut an 18-point deficit to two, yet they still walked out of the Dean Dome with a deflating 87-79 loss.
Since North Carolina’s first home victory over Clemson in 1926, the U.S. has weathered the Great Depression, put men on the moon, and survived the disco and hair metal crazes without the Tigers winning in Chapel Hill. Along the way, the Tar Heels have outclassed Clemson every way imaginable, beating them narrowly (61-60 in 1974), soundly (85-48 in 1953), at a breakneck pace (100-86 in 1989) and at a crawl (24-23 in 1936).
North Carolina’s dominance over Clemson is unparalleled in college basketball history. The longest home win streak any other program has produced against the same opponent is Princeton’s 52 straight victories against Brown from 1929-2002. UCLA won 47 in a row in Westwood over Washington State from 1950-2003 and Kentucky reeled off 41 consecutive victories over Ole Miss in Lexington from 1929-1996.
What’s particularly discouraging for Clemson is the results don’t change whether North Carolina is formidable or vulnerable.
Matt Doherty, the short-lived Tar Heels coach who cratered the program in the early 2000s, still managed to defeat Clemson three times in Chapel Hill during his tenure. Even during Doherty’s catastrophic 8-20 season in 2002, North Carolina somehow walloped Clemson at home by 18 points.
Clemson entered Tuesday night’s game with a 15-2 record, a top 20 ranking and reason to believe it could make history. The Tigers boast an elite defense, a handful of scoring threats and the confidence that they can compete against college basketball’s best after victories over Ohio State, Louisville, Miami and Florida.
This certainly isn’t a bad North Carolina team by any means, but it’s not one of Roy Williams’ best either. The 15th-ranked Tar Heels (15-4, 4-2) lost their top three frontcourt weapons from last year’s national title team and have been forced to play freshmen significant minutes as a result.
For awhile it looked like Clemson was beaten before it even stepped onto the Dean Dome floor. The Tigers fell behind by double digits in the opening five minutes and trailed by as many as 18 points early in the second half.
The second-half shooting of Marcquise Reed and Shelton Mitchell propelled Clemson back into the game. Those two sparked a nine-minute stretch in which the Tigers did not miss a single shot and pulled to within 61-59 on a Mark Donnal 3-pointer.
Twice more Clemson would cut North Carolina’s lead to two, but the Tigers never got over the hump. Joel Berry, Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson each hit jump shots on the ensuing possession to halt the Tigers’ momentum each time they made it a one-possession game.
All five of North Carolina’s starters scored in double figures led by Johnson’s 21 points and Berry’s 17. Theo Pinson had his typical statsheet-stuffing night, providing 12 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 blocks.
You can bet North Carolina players were more relieved than excited when the final buzzer sounded and their home dominance of Clemson continued.
No Tar Heel wants to be part of the team that lets the streak end, and on Tuesday night this year’s North Carolina players found a way to prevent Clemson from experiencing victory in Chapel Hill for the first time at their expense.
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