One day after jumping out to a 13-1 lead over Boston College, Clemson (21-11) nearly replicated that performance by securing a 14-3 advantage over North Carolina (26-6) before the first media timeout.
UNC’s nine-point halftime deficit to Miami on Friday matched the program’s largest in ACC Tournament history, but the Tar Heels set a new record on Saturday by entering halftime down 38-28.
Clemson quickly increased that margin to 41-30, but North Carolina went on a 23-11 run to grab its first lead of the game at 53-52 with 10:55 remaining. The Tigers responded with a 11-2 spurt, but the Tar Heels scored the last seven points of regulation to force overtime on a Tyler Zeller hook shot with 30.0 seconds remaining. Demontez Stitt forced a tough jumper from 18-feet as the game clock expired.
The Tar Heels scored the first nine points of overtime and held off a late Clemson charge to secure the victory and a spot in the ACC Tournament finals against Duke on Sunday.
Barnes’s 40 points (12-of-17 shooting, 6-of-8 3s) are the most ever in 115 ACC Tournament semifinals and is tied for the third-most in school history in the ACC Tournament behind Lennie Rosenbluth (45 in ‘57) and Charlie Scott (41 in ‘70). It also stands as the most points scored by a freshman in ACC Tournament history, surpassing Mark Price’s 33 points in ’83.
Barnes’s point total ties Tyler Hansbrough (GT ’06) for the most by a freshman in ACC history.
John Henson added 18 points and 11 rebounds, while Zeller scored 14 points and grabbed six rebounds. Demontez Stitt paced Clemson with a career-high 25 points and Tanner Smith and Andre Young both added 14 points.
North Carolina shot 48.4 percent (30-of-62, 8-of-16 3s) from the floor, while Clemson knocked down 50 percent of their field goal attempts (33-of-66, 12-of-24 3s). The Tar Heels outrebounded the Tigers, 39-35, including a 18-15 edge on the offensive glass.
INSIDE THE GAME
Another Helping of Barnes Mixed with Defense
The Tar Heels have rallied five times from double-digit deficits this season to claim victories over ACC opponents, and there have been two key components to that success – Harrison Barnes and tight defense.
The freshman forward hit game-winning shots in the closing minutes against Virginia Tech and Miami, delivered a critical block in the final 90 seconds at Virginia and also led all scorers with 18 points in UNC’s dramatic win over Miami on Friday.
Defense has played an equally as important role. For example, after Miami built its 53-34 lead with 9:55 left in regulation, the Tar Heels forced the Hurricanes to commit four turnovers and miss 12 of their final 13 shots, including their last five 3-pointers.
Offense ignited North Carolina’s 23-11 charge on Saturday to take the lead at 53-52, but the Tigers maintained their own offensive effectiveness, connecting on 12 of their 15 field goal attempts during that run and more as they quickly rebuilt a 69-62 lead with 6:43 remaining. Then the Carolina blue cavalry arrived.
Over the next 9:53, Clemson missed 10 of its 12 field goal attempts, committed three turnovers and could only watch as a seven-point lead eroded into an eight-point deficit with 1:50 to play in overtime. During the final minute of regulation, North Carolina forced a shot clock violation and made Stitt attempt a difficult game-winner over two UNC defenders.
“If you watch North Carolina play, they never let you shoot the last shot,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell told reporters during his postgame press conference. “They’re going to trap you. They’re going to make somebody else make a play, not one of your better players.”
During that same stretch, Barnes outscored Clemson, 9-6, and narrowly missed out on outscoring the Tigers over the final 11:43 of play (17 points to CU’s 18 points).
Barnes Lonely in the First Half
On Friday, Harrison Barnes kept his teammates afloat by scoring 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting in the first half and adding five more in the opening five minutes of the second stanza. His 3-pointer with 15:06 remaining cut Miami’s lead to 13 points, but the Hurricanes eventually pushed that margin to 19 points roughly five minutes later.
Barnes was the lone Tar Heel with more than one made field goal until Henson’s dunk at the 11:26 mark of the second half.
North Carolina once again leaned heavily on Barnes against the Tigers. The freshman’s 3-pointer with 7:58 left in the opening half cut Clemson’s lead to 23-16 and increased his point total to 12. He finished with half with 16 points.
Barnes’ six made field goals in nine attempts doubled his teammates’ production (3) in the first half. Clemson, on the other hand, had five players to score two or more field goals in the opening 20 minutes.
“I just try to feel in for what the team needs,” Barnes said. “Today we had a lack of production on the offensive end and I tried to make up for that.”
Over the past two games, Barnes has scored 26 points on 10-of-16 (4-of-8 3s) shooting in the first half, while his teammates have combined for 24 points on 6-of-30 (1-of-7 3s) shooting.
Roy Williams’s offensive system is not built to rely on just one player. If the Tar Heels hope to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament, someone is going to have to step up to help Barnes out to avoid detrimental runs by the opposing team.
“We’ve just got to play a lot better overall,” Zeller said. “We did a lot of things in the first half that we don’t normally do. A few times we went 1-on-1 and things like that that we’ve got to get away from. We’ve got to start playing better and moving the ball quicker. It’s something that’s easy to change, we’ve just got to change it.”
Owning the Post
Senior forward Jerai Grant earned honorable mention All-ACC honors earlier this week, but the Bowie, Md. native may have moved up to third team if not for a pair of rough showings against North Carolina.
Saturday’s third meeting with UNC didn’t prove to be any better for the 6-foot-8, 230-pounder. After having all three of his field goal attempts blocked by Henson on Feb. 12, Grant managed to score two buckets on Zeller in the paint, but had little else to add offensively.
Grant scored four points on 2-of-8 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds. In three games against North Carolina this season, the All-ACC Defensive Team member has shot a combined 13.0 percent on 3-of-23 shooting to go along with 15 boards.
“I think John and I do a great job, more so John with how long he is and how much he can affect his shots,” Zeller said. “I think it’s one of those things where you think it’s going to be easy but John can block it or with me, I can usually keep you out of the lane and make you make a tough shot. I think just the combo of the two of us made it very difficult for him to score.”
Just how good are Henson and Zeller defensively? Illinois forward Mike Davis is the lone post player to score 20 points or more on UNC this season, posting 20 points and 10 rebounds on Nov. 30 in a game that Zeller was limited to a season-low 20 minutes due to foul trouble. First-team All-ACC center Jordan Williams scored 16 points and grabbed 19 rebounds on Feb. 27 in the only other impressive post performance against the Tar Heels this year.
Henson and Zeller are collectively averaging 25.8 points and 17.0 rebounds per game.