Well it wasn’t easy and it certainly wasn’t pretty, but UNC survived a pesky Clemson team on the road with a late bucket by Brady Manek and a missed three-pointer at the buzzer by David Collins for a 79-77 win. Carolina shot 50% from the field but led for just 16 minutes of the game.
After falling behind early, the Tar Heels closed the first half on a 22-6 run that put them ahead by five points at the break. Armando Bacot scored 15 of his points in the first half to lead the team, but we’ll get back to that later. Bacot and Clemson’s PJ Hall went toe-to-toe in scoring, each contributing 24 points for their respective team. Both also found themselves in a decent bit of foul trouble in the second half.
Bacot was followed by RJ Davis’ 16 points and 11 from each of Leaky Black and Manek. Caleb Love also finished in double figures with ten points. There was a fair amount of nonsense in the game with Davis getting called for a technical foul for saying something after a made bucket and Manek and Bacot being called for flagrant fouls. In the case of Manek, he grabbed the arm of an airborne shooter. The flagrant on Bacot was more inexcusable, as he shoved his hand into the face of a Clemson player. The foul sent him to the bench with the game close in a stretch where his team really needed him to be on the floor and ultimately fouled out of the game late.
Manek got a great feed from a driving Love for a layup that gave UNC the two-point lead with three seconds remaining. After two timeouts by Hubert Davis, the Tar Heels still inexplicably let Clemson get the ball up the floor to Collins, who had hurt them all night, with his feet set. Thankfully, the ball glanced off the front of the rim to seal the win, but man it was too close for comfort.
There were ten ties and 11 lead changes in the game that went back and forth, especially after Clemson caught up in the second half. The depth that UNC is lacking right now was evident once again, but they did manage to get seven points from Kerwin Walton off the bench. Games with so little margin for error seem to be where the lack of depth shows up the most, and it’s even worse when someone like Bacot fouls out in a late-and-close situation.
Carolina’s sharp shooting in the second half really bailed them out from letting Clemson out-score them in the second 20 minutes. The Tar Heels shot 60% from the field after halftime, of which they needed every bit with the Tigers shooting 56% on their own. Black scored all 11 of his points after halftime, continuing to provide a much-needed extra shot of offense that has been critical over the last several games.
There will almost certainly be a time to discuss what struggling with a team of Clemson’s caliber means for UNC’s outlook the rest of the season, and also how frustration has become a little too visible in the play of several guys on the team. It’s hard to ignore that some of that frustration has really put the team behind the eight ball at times. It’s a problem without an easy solution, and one I’m happy to not be tasked with handling.
UNC will be back in action on Saturday when they welcome Florida State to Chapel Hill.