With North Carolina (18-6, 8-2 ACC) trailing 46-45 with 7:15 left to play, Barnes and Marshall decided to trade in their freshman garb for veteran attire as the Tar Heels grinded out yet another ugly win in ACC play. Barnes’s free throw with 4:50 remaining tied the score at 51 and marked the last time that Clemson (17-8, 6-5 ACC) would hold the lead.
On the next possession, Barnes drove around a Tyler Zeller screen, utilized a spin move in the paint and elevated for a highlight reel dunk over Milton Jennings that sent the Clemson forward careening to the floor. Demontez Stitt attempted to answer with a drive on the other end of the floor, but Marshall picked his pocket and went coast-to-coast to increase UNC’s margin to 55-51.
The Tigers drained three 3-pointers in the final 23.2 seconds to stay within reach, but the Tar Heels connected on just enough free throws (seven of last 10) to withstand the late rally.
Clemson utilized an 11-2 spurt in the first half to claw within 28-22 at the break after North Carolina scored 15 of the game’s first 19 points. The Tigers then used an 8-0 run out of the locker room to grab their first lead of the game.
Barnes led North Carolina with 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting, while Marshall added a career-high 18 points on 4-of-9 shooting (10-of-11 FTs). John Henson posted a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds, and Tyler Zeller added 10 points and seven boards. A Leslie McDonald second-half free throw accounted for the lone point from UNC’s bench.
Stitt paced the Tigers with 17 points and Milton Jennings turned in 15 points and 12 rebounds.
North Carolina connected on 37.7 percent of its field goal attempts (20-of-53) while holding Clemson to 34.4 percent (21-of-61). The Tigers outrebounded the Tar Heels, 47-36.
INSIDE THE GAME
Winning Ugly… Again
While this group of Tar Heels may be void of flash and even grace at times, they do their part in making sure the opposition plays just a little bit uglier. For the third time in five weeks, North Carolina has scored 64 points or less and won.
Prior to this season, UNC had only accomplished that feat twice during Williams’s seven seasons as head coach in Chapel Hill.
“We always say we want to win in the 90s, but we’ve got to be able to win in the 60s,” UNC head coach Roy Williams told reporters during his postgame press conference. “We work on it all of the time. We don’t work on playing ugly, but we work on our halfcourt offense and we work on guarding people and trying not to give them a quick shot.”
While the Tar Heels had to rally from double-digit deficits to defeat Virginia (62-56) and Virginia Tech (64-61) last month, UNC showcased its ever-growing poise on Saturday in not allowing Clemson to ride its momentum to a two-possession lead. The Tigers took the lead five times in the second half, but the Tar Heels countered each time with a basket to either tie the score or regain the lead.
Making that stat even more impressive is that underclassmen were responsible for four of those five field goals.
“It shows that we’re able to grind out wins,” Barnes said. “We haven’t had too many road blowouts. We’ve had a few at home, but most of our ACC games have been grind-outs. This is just another one added to the resume.”
Jerai Grant has played a pivotal role for the Tigers this season in the post, leading the team in rebounds (7.0) and ranking second in scoring (12.8) per game. He has been a steady contributor, scoring in double digits in 15 of his last 17 outings, but his worst showing of the season occurred in Chapel Hill nearly four weeks ago (2 points on 1-of-12 shooting).
Henson deserved full credit for that performance, totaling five blocks and altering several more field goal attempts from the Tigers’ senior forward. Unfortunately for Grant, Saturday’s effort may have been even worse.
Clemson went inside to Grant on the game’s first possession and Henson picked up where he left off in Chapel Hill with a block. Two possessions later, Henson swatted a Grant pull-up jumper attempt off the right block. Several minutes later, a double team in the post forced Grant into one of his two turnovers on the day.
On the defensive end, two early fouls limited the Bowie, Md. native to six minutes in the first half. When he returned to action in the second half, Henson welcomed him back with yet another block on his first field goal attempt.
“He hasn’t seen some of my length before,” Henson said. “I don’t know, I think we’ve just got his number. He’s a great player and he shoots the ball very well and things of that nature, but with ‘Z’ and me down there, he just has a tough time.”
Henson blocked all three of Grant’s field goal attempts as the All-ACC candidate was held scoreless with only one rebound in 16 minutes of action.
Ten Minutes of Hell
The Tar Heels’ offensive display was nothing to write home about in the opening 10:32, including several plays where lacking cohesion would be a kind description of a paltry 6-of-18 shooting display.
But yet North Carolina led 15-4 due to an active defensive approach that flustered the Tigers into four times as many turnovers (8) as field goals (2) in their first 20 possessions. Clemson shot just 13 percent (2-of-15) in that opening stretch before warming up ever so slightly to finish the half with a 27.3 percent mark (9-of-33).
Continued Woes From Deep:
Against Duke, North Carolina turned in its worst 3-point shooting display (2-of-14, 14.3 percent) since managing a 9.1 percent effort (1-of-11) against Kentucky on Dec. 4.
The Tar Heels replicated Wednesday’s performance against Clemson, needing Henson’s first trey of the season to break a 38-minute, 51-second drought from beyond the arc.