USA TODAY Sports
UNC does most of its work in the first half then slogs though the second stanza to gets its 20th win of the season.
It was really a tale of two halves.
In the first half, UNC rode six made threes to a 12 point halftime lead. Everyone got into the act with Marcus Paige hitting a pair of threes early and Leslie McDonald hitting back-to-back threes to kick off a 20-6 run to close the half. After intermission UNC was never really threatened but the game was basically a grind. Clemson's Devin Booker, who ended the game with 25 points and 11 rebounds, had his way on the interior against the Tar Heel defense. James Michael McAdoo could do very little with him and his dominance kept Clemson from getting completely blown out. Ultimately UNC's offense got a little bogged down and missing four of the last six FTs allowed Clemson to get as close as seven before time simply ran out.
Interestingly, watching the second half gave this game a different feel that what the box score indicates. UNC had all five starters in double figures which usually indicates a fairly dominant offensive performance. It didn't feel that way as the game wound down. Dexter Strickland led the way with 16 points on 7-9 shooting. Reggie Bullock followed up with 12 points and six assists. James Michael McAdoo and P.J. Hairston had 11 each. Marcus Paige ended up with 10 points, four assists and two turnovers. Strickland was quite good mixing some drives with fast break baskets and a few jumpers. While Hairston did hit two key threes in the second half he ended up 3-11 on the game and missed the front end of a one-and-one late in the game which gave Clemson a glimmer of hope. For the game, UNC has 19 assists on 26 made FGs.
Obviously the smaller lineup is going to have certain deficiencies which was on display in this game. McAdoo could not check Booker but then again, UNC really didn't have anyone who could so it probably doesn't matter. After UNC controlled the boards in the first half, Clemson owned the rebounding in the second. It is a price that gets paid against certain teams. The upside is UNC is both taking care of the ball and getting transition points by forcing turnovers. Most importantly, UNC is winning and has done so on the road in fairly comfortable fashion.
The Heels are now 20-8 and 10-5 in ACC play. It is the 40th time in 43 years UNC has won 20 games in a season. Granted there is still work to do and it would be great to win out in the regular season which would include a win over Duke. At this point UNC should be in the NCAA Tournament. However, one shouldn't mess around with such things and continue to build on the present momentum over the final three games of the regular season.