UNC had one major question mark entering ACC play: Defense. For one night anyway it appears UNC answered that with a solid defensive effort to win what ended up being a typical tough, grind it out game against Clemson.
Offensively speaking the Tar Heels struggled early going 0-6 to start the game and only getting points at the free throw line. UNC eventually got the offense rolling with a balanced attack. Four different Tar Heels scored over a three minute span with Theo Pinson's three giving UNC the lead at 13-12.
As UNC slowly ramped up the offense, the Tar Heels were engaged on the defensive end. On the ball defense was on point and UNC's big men did a great job hedging on screens. When the shots started falling, UNC began to methodically extend the lead. Over a four minute plus span to close the half Carolina used a 12-3 run to push a two point edge to double digits with 38 seconds left. A late Clemson basket and Brice Johnson committing a brain dead foul with 1.2 seconds left allowed the Tiger to cut the lead to 37-30 at the break.
Carolina opened the second half on a torrid shooting pace hitting 5-of-7 shots. Brice Johnson picked up a quick third foul and with 17:52 left, Roy Williams used the small lineup with Theo Pinson at the four. That lineup proved to be very effective. Pinson scored five straight points and following a Isaiah Hicks steal, Joel Berry kicked out to Paige on the wing for a three in transition to run the UNC lead to 14 with 16:20 left.
With 8:57 left Justin Jackson capped off a 6-0 burst to extend the lead to 16 points. The Tar Heels big lead didn't last long. Clemson went on a 10-0 run with included two made threes in transition. Johnson missed a dunk led to a run out and made three. On the next possession a Paige turnover led to a second Clemson three in transition to cut the lead to six.
After the game suddenly tightened up, the Tar Heels responded in kind. UNC scored on six straight possessions with five different Tar Heels lighting up the scoreboard. Pinson's three with 6:25 left followed by a Jackson baseline floater restored the lead to double digits. Johnson and Hick's continued foul trouble forced UNC to lean on the small lineup again and that group continued to play well closing out the Tar Heels 58th straight win over Clemson in Chapel Hill.
Marcus Paige led all scorers with 18 points and was one of five Tar Heels in double figures. Joel Berry hit several big shots on his way to 14 points and Theo Pinson posted a career high 13 points on 3-of-3 shooting from beyond the arc. Isaiah Hicks hit double figures for a seventh straight game scoring 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting and hitting 4-of-5 at the line. Justin Jackson also had 13 points. Brice Johnson, who Roy Williams said had been "sensational" for several games struggled to a three point outing on 1-for-8 shooting. Johnson still had nine rebounds and made a couple of key defensive plays in the first half.
UNC opens ACC play 1-0 and moves to 12-2 overall. The Tar Heel streak of games at 120+ offensive efficiency was snapped with the Tar Heels hitting 118.1 in this game. An elevated TO% was a factor. UNC had a TO% of 17.4(12 turnovers total) which is above the season average of 14.5% coming into the game.