Clemson (13-13, 5-7 ACC) connected on three of its first five field goal attempts to take a 7-2 lead, but the Tar Heels (23-4, 10-2 ACC) responded with an 11-2 spurt to gain control. That lead eventually grew to 15 points at 29-14. Andre Young drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer to cut UNC's halftime lead to 31-22.
Tanner Smith drained a 3-pointer and scored a basket in transition on consecutive plays midway through the second half to slice Clemson's deficit to 47-41, but UNC answered with a 25-9 run to put the game out of reach.
Harrison Barnes led North Carolina with 24 points on 9-of-18 shooting (3-of-6 on 3-pointers). Tyler Zeller added 14 points, John Henson posted 13 points and eight rebounds and Reggie Bullock scored 13 points.
Andre Young paced Clemson with 13 points, while Milton Jennings and Devin Booker both scored nine points.
UNC shot 49.2 percent (31-of-63) from the floor and held Clemson to 37.5 percent shooting (18-of-48).
INSIDE THE GAME
Another Routine Outing
Kendall Marshall has become so proficient running the point for North Carolina that it's easy for fans and media to look at one of his stat lines – take Saturday's 13 assists and three turnovers, for example – and chalk it up as just another solid outing, even though those numbers would represent a career night for most other point guards across the country.
Sometimes it takes an outside view to fully understand the significance of Marshall's contributions. Clemson head coach Brad Brownell provided that look during his postgame press conference, calling the sophomore point guard "one of my favorite players in college basketball because of the way he passes and plays.
"He's so unique – you don't see many guys like him," Brownell continued. "His ability to pass, his unselfishness, his I.Q. for the game is tremendous. Who wouldn't want to play with that guy? Who wouldn't want to coach him? He takes so much pressure off you as a head coach because he makes so many decisions that you don't need to tell him a whole lot.
"There are times at the end of shot clocks… The last three they made maybe where he drove the baseline and somehow sees Barnes backwards at the top of the key – you don't coach that, now. That's just a guy who's got gifts."
Here's some perspective. Marshall's 13 assists mark the 11th time this season and 17th time in his career that he's dished out double-figure assists. He's had 13 assists or more this year seven times, and more importantly, UNC is undefeated (21-0) when he hands out at least nine assists.
With a minimum of six games remaining this season, Marshall's 262 assists stands as third-most in single-season school history. Ed Cota holds that record with 284 assists, meaning that Marshall needs to average a minimum of 3.83 assists per game the rest of the way to break that mark. In order to set the ACC single-season record, currently held by Georgia Tech's Craig Neal (303, '87-‘88), he needs to average a minimum of 7.0 assists per game.
The Dumfries, Va. native is currently averaging 9.7 assists per outing, as well as a 3.45:1 assist-turnover ratio.
When asked about Brownell's comments, Marshall responded with reciprocal respect.
"It's something that humbles me, but I take it as a great honor because these are coaches that I've looked up to, watching their teams play and things like that," Marshall said. "[Michigan State head] coach [Tom] Izzo said something along the same lines as that. Just the pedestal I put these coaches on, that they even think about me is very comforting, but at the same time, I just want to keep working to get better to help my team out."
Crashing the Boards
It's not exactly breaking news that North Carolina outrebounded Clemson, 39-26, including an 11-5 advantage on the offensive glass. After all, UNC leads the nation with a plus-11.6 rebounding margin. Henson leads the ACC with 10.3 rebounds per game, while Zeller ranks third with 9.5.
"There's going to be some offensive rebounds with North Carolina just because they're so long," Brownell said. "The 50-50 balls, where you guy goes up with their guy, that turns into a 70-30, 80-20 real fast."
But there have been times this season that Henson and Zeller were called on to carry the heavy load on the backboards. That, however, wasn't the case on Saturday.
Seven different Tar Heels grabbed at least two rebounds, including Barnes (7) and Bullock (6). Four players pulled down two or more offensive rebounds, none of whom were Henson (1). Bullock led the team with three offensive boards, while Zeller, Barnes and Desmond Hubert added two each.
North Carolina capitalized on the offensive glass in the first half with a 7-1 advantage to post a 11-2 differential in second-chance points. UNC finished with a 16-9 margin in points off offensive rebounds.
"It was a group effort tonight and that's what Coach always wants us to do," Henson said. "Harrison and Reggie, especially, got on the boards early in the game and they really gave us some extra shots."
And Then There Were Three…
Combine UNC's win over Clemson and Florida State's 76-62 defeat over N.C. State on Saturday and the ACC standings quickly develop separation between the top three teams, the three schools battling for a NCAA Tournament bid and the remaining six teams of the nation's fifth-rated conference.
If Duke beats Boston College as expected on Sunday, three teams – FSU, UNC and the Blue Devils – will sit atop the ACC standings with 10-2 records. The Seminoles own the tiebreaker over both UNC and Duke, but host the Blue Devils on Thursday in a pivotal league contest.
North Carolina and FSU only play once this season, but the Tar Heels will travel to Cameron Indoor Stadium to face Duke in the regular season finale on Mar. 3.
The Tar Heels can clinch a first round bye in the ACC Tournament with a win on Tuesday at N.C. State.
Meanwhile, the Wolfpack join Miami and Virginia in the ACC's fourth spot with 7-5 records. It's unlikely that the ACC will get six teams into the NCAA Tournament, meaning the top-two tiers will provide some interesting basketball over the final two weeks of the regular season.
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