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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tar Heels survive gut check to fend off Tigers

Posted by on Wed, Jan 19, 2011 at 12:31 AM

Roy: Dont call me, Ill call you
SMITH CENTER/CHAPEL HILL — As always when Clemson arrives in town, the pre-game buzz Tuesday largely pertained to the Tigers’ historic futility — an all-time record of 0-54 — against North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

And considering UNC’s most recent outing, a dreadful blowout defeat at Georgia Tech two nights prior, there was ample chatter emanating from both sides that this strong Clemson team could topple one of sport’s most novel streaks.

But a funny thing happened during the game — fans were treated to a hell of a show, largely forgetting the streak even as the monument still stands. The Tar Heels enjoyed a rare spurt of offense in the first half and outlasted the determined Tigers down the stretch to win 75-65.

Carolina’s initial rush of energy was a welcome relief for Roy Williams and the fans alike. The Tar Heels made the widely desired switch at point guard, with freshman Kendall Marshall replacing junior Larry Drew. Additionally, Williams said after the game that he also had planned to start both Leslie McDonald and Justin Knox in place of Dexter Strickland and Tyler Zeller, but he changed his mind after McDonald was unable to play due to injury.

The result at point guard seemed to work, even if Marshall himself (five points, five assists, three turnovers) didn’t play a great game. The offense did run more smoothly, and Drew actually was a pleasant surprise in his backup role. He scored eight points and hassled Clemson’s ball-handlers on defense, ripping away four steals.

Freshman wing Reggie Bullock — afforded more playing time because of McDonald’s absence — blew up in the first half and finished the game with 18 points. He had been struggling of late no doubt in part due to the death of his grandmother, and he brought much-needed perimeter firepower to the lineup.

Clemson was able to stay in the game because UNC’s team defense at times was lacking. The Heels gambled a lot on the perimeter and allowed the Tigers to fire in 10 three-pointers, but their overall 35 percent shooting indicates a solid defensive effort by Carolina.

The game itself was so compelling that no reporters asked Roy Williams after the game about the survival of the streak, focusing instead on the new personnel wrinkles as well as about the head coach’s mental constitution in the face of another trying season.

Williams’ ongoing hatred of his weekly radio show was evident. After a tense question and answer session on Monday evening, he complimented his own restraint during the post-game press conference and suggested that the fans “keep your damn phone calls to yourself.”

Carolina now gets a week to heal before tangling with Miami in Coral Gables next Wednesday. UNC now sports a mark of 13-5, 3-1 in the ACC. To view the UNC/Clemson box score, click here.

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