Tarheels fall to Clemson

There are losses, and then there are heartbreakers. Last Sunday’s Clemson-North Carolina game fell, for the Tarheels at least, into the second category. The No. 1 Tarheels lost 75-65 to the practically unranked Clemson Tigers in a breathtaking upset this past Sunday. The loss, their first in ACC play this year, ended Carolina’s 18-game winning streak, their longest in 15 years.

Clemson used a triangle-and-two defense to combat Carolina’s height advantage, a strategy that obviously worked. Other clues to their shocking win can be found in the game statistics. Clemson shot 43% from the field, compared to UNC’s 38.5%. The Tarheels landed only 31% from three-point range, while the Tigers made 36.7%.

Even more telling are the free throw stats: Out of 15 free throw attempts, Carolina sank only 7, for an extremely low 47%. The Tigers, on the other hand, surprised even themselves by making 8 out of 10 shots, for an unusually high 80%. Clemson also out-rebounded the significantly taller Tarheels, taking 44 to their 41.

“Just look at the box scores,” commented Clemson fan Neale Elliott, who attended Sunday’s game. “There’s the game. We hit our free throws; they didn’t. We outshot them and out-rebounded them.”

As simple as that sounds, the game was anything but predictable. Both teams played well throughout the game. Each team had only 7 turnovers, and at least 2 players on each team totaled 16 or more points.

Though Clemson had led by 10 points earlier in the second half, the Tarheels cut their lead to only 2 in the final two minutes. At that point, Elliott said, “it was really anyone’s ballgame,” but the Tiger win was clenched by Carolina’s uncharacteristic miss of its final five 3-point attempts. Heartbreaking as this kind of unpredictability can be, it is, however, precisely what entices people to the league, and the game in general.

“For fans,” stated UNC coach Matt Doherty, “this is the best league in the country. For coaches, it can rip your gut out a little bit.”

Clemson’s unexpected win is just one of a number of upsets that caught the ACC off guard in the last few weeks. North Carolina lost to Georgia Tech (tied with Clemson at a 2-10 record in ACC play) earlier in the season, as did Maryland. Duke also fell unexpectedly to Virginia recently.

“The teams in the lower bracket, the bottom of the league, have really been jumping on the upper league teams lately,” continued Elliott. “It ought to be an exciting tournament.”

The 2001 ACC men’s basketball tournament will be held March 8-11, at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.