Well, that was absolutely bonkers. The North Carolina Tar Heels recorded their 59th consecutive home win over the Clemson Tigers and did so in one of the more terrifying 2nd halves the Tar Heels will face this season.
There's a lot to process after Tuesday night's fireworks, but here are three major takeaways from the game:
- Cam Johnson Looks 100%
Eight games into the season, Cameron Johnson played his best game as a Tar Heel. The Pitt-transfer scored 21 points on 7-10 shooting and hit six threes. This despite heading to the bench with two fouls in the first half. As we will discuss, the Tigers came busting out of the locker room in the 2nd half and the Heels needed to generate offense just to keep ahead of their barrage. For the first ten minutes of the 2nd half, that offense came from Johnson.
Much has been said in the last two weeks about Cam being moved into the starting lineup in the place of a traditional 5. Last night, we saw just how effective Cam can be in that 'Death Lineup.' His outside shooting (the biggest reason the Tar Heels sought him in the offseason) is absolutely lethal when on-form and gives their offense a whole new potency. On top of that, he just looked better moving around, guarding on the perimeter, and handling the ball. If he can keep that up, Carolina will be scary going forward.
2. Berry and Maye Are Still the Closers
At the half, Joel Berry and Luke Maye combined for just 5 points and the Tar Heels held a 15-point lead, thanks to Johnson and Kenny Williams. But when the Tiger offense turned from Tigger into Shere Khan, Carolina's two best players were the ones who answered the bell. Cam Johnson may have carried the Heels in the first part of the 2nd period, but MayeBerry U.N.C. (yup, I'm still trying to make that happen) ultimately brought it home.
Berry had 14 second half points and hit 4 threes to hold Clemson at bay. His three-point shot returning to him came just in time, as Clemson had gone to a zone that seemed to temporarily perplex the Heels on several possessions. The Tigers eventually abandoned their zone when it became clear that Carolina's outside shooting was back in its groove.
Maye was having a first half to forget, scoring just 2 points on 1-4 shooting, until a stray elbow from Kenny Williams opened his nose. He seemed unlikely to return, but did just that in the 2nd half and scored 9 vital points. Two made free throws and a clutch catch-and-shoot with the shot clock winding down stood out in particular. At a time when UNC needed fearless shot takers to turn back the Clemson rally, Maye delivered.
3. Clemson Will Never Win in Chapel Hill
OK, never say never. At some point all good things must come to an end, even a 59-game win streak. But let's just consider for a moment that the Tigers hit 15 consecutive shots in the 2nd half and still lost. Clemson played virtually flawless offensive basketball for about 13 minutes of play but couldn't completely overtake the Tar Heels.
This was for several reasons: Clemson's struggles at the free throw line and their 1st-half deficit certainly stand out. But the two key reasons were the Tar Heels going 15-31 from beyond the arc, their best shooting display besides the Western Carolina game, and the poise shown by UNC throughout Clemson's run. Carolina didn't panic, even in the face of preposterously good shooting by Shelton Mitchell and Marquise Reed.
Not since Oliver Purnell's 2008 squad pushed Tyler Hansbrough and top-ranked UNC to Double OT have the Tigers played so well in Chapel Hill. This year's Clemson team might be their best since that season. And yet they still finished 8 points short. There's always next year.