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UNC 78, Clemson 82: Tar Heels lose Theo Pinson and their third straight game


NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Like last game, Carolina gave up way too many three-pointers. Like last game, two players accounted for nearly all of UNC’s scoring. Like last game, the Tar Heels had a chance to win late and couldn’t put their opponent away.

Tonight was a bit like deja vu right down to the empty feeling in your chest after watching another painful loss. This one has an easy what-if, though: what if Theo Pinson didn’t get injured in the second minute of the game. The senior do-it-all man was pushed on a rebound attempt early and sprained his shoulder on the fall. He missed the remainder of the game.

It has been completely evident how much the team relies on Pinson’s presence in all aspects of the game. They have crumbled on more than one occasion with him not being able to play. Give the team credit for finding a way to fight back and adjust after getting the doors blown off in the first half, but some of that may have had to do with losing the guy who makes it all go.

Cameron Johnson tried very hard to win the game for UNC himself. Coming off a massive shooting slump, Johnson scored 32 points, pulled down four rebounds, and drained six of his three-point attempts. Joel Berry II was not far behind Johnson in the points category with 27. However, no one else was able to help. Luke Maye had an atrocious night. The lack of a third option really killed the Heels.

UNC managed to fight their way back to even late in the second half after trailing by a season-high 16 at halftime. They pulled themselves up off the mat and out-scored Clemson in the second half, 50-38, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the terrible first half in which they allowed the Tigers to have anything they wanted from three. Sound familiar?

The perimeter defense was non-existent in the first half. Nearly all of Clemson’s shots from beyond the arc seemed to be lightly contested at best and wide open at worst. Gabe DeVoe hit five threes while Shelton Mitchell and Marcquise Reed chipped in three a piece as part of 15 on the night. Once again, if one of those doesn’t fall this may be a very different recap. As it is, the Heels have a very real problem that is going to continue being exposed if something doesn’t change.

Carolina will have a chance to get right against Pitt on Saturday at the Dean Dome to snap this losing streak. If they can’t pull that off, though, it’s going to be pretty hard to keep people away from the ledge.