They can't all be stunning offensive performances, I guess. Facing a tough defense – although one not as successful as Duke or FSU – the Heels had a lot of trouble moving the ball around and finding the bottom of the basket. They saved the day with a tremendous defensive effort of their own, and only a barrage of Clemson threes in the closing minute left the 64-62 final score as close as it was.
Let's start with that defense. John Henson and Tyler Zeller completely shut down the Tigers' frontcourt pair of Jerai Grant and Devin Booker. The Clemson duo, who average 12.8 and 8 points per game and are the teams' leading rebounders, were held scoreless from the field and had five rebounds between them. Henson, on the other hand, would finish with a double-double and record four blocks while altering at least that number. It was a domination of the paint, a part of an overall Carolina defense that generated 16 turnovers, 10 of them steals.
UNC couldn't turn those steals into points though. At one point of the game, Carolina had caused nine turnovers but only gotten three points from them; Clemson had obviously emphasized stopping the Heels' transition offense, and were back on D almost immediately. Forced into halfcourt sets, UNC struggled, finding it difficult to both get the ball inside or get an outside shooting game going. The bench and Dexter Strickland were particularly disappointing in this regard, making no field goals; any offense outside of the paint was generated by Kendall Marshall and Harrison Barnes. Barnes was often hampered by Clemson guard Tanner Smith, but when Smith went to the bench with foul trouble he broke free. He would finish with twenty points and the highlight of the game, a monstrous drive from the top of the key for a slam:
Marshall also struggled to distribute the ball, managing 3 assists and just as many turnovers, but he'd finish with 18 points, the last seven coming from the free throw line in the final minute of play. And that brings up the most heartening bit of the game; after Barnes' above dunk broke open the 51-51 tie and Marshall extended the lead to four, UNC went 9 for 12 from the line, effectively sealing the game despite three three pointers from the Tigers on their last three possessions. Last year's team would have folded at this point, but Carolina played very intelligently in the closing seconds, including a heads-up play from John Henson on a rebound to ensure he was not sent to the line. It's a shame that his free throw shooting remains such a liability, but it's the only weak sot in his game at he moment. With a much more relaxing slate of games ahead, this team should be able to really impress in the next two weeks.