Gone were the jitters that plagued the young Tar Heels four days earlier in the 94-88 upset loss to the Hokies.
“We wanted to show who we were tonight. We put (the Virginia Tech) loss behind us and took it to the next game,” said Wright, who missed just two shots on the night and matched his career-high with four blocked shots.
Tyler Hansbrough, who, according to Roy Williams, “took as hard a fall as I've ever seen” in practice on Monday and was held out of drills on Tuesday; recovered to add 16 points and seven rebounds.
“I took a little fall in practice,” Hansbrough said. “I landed on my back, and I didn’t know if I was going to be able to go for the game. Our strength coach and our trainer helped me loosen up. It bothered me at times (tonight), but with time it will heal.”
In front of a hostile crowd of 10,000 at Littlejohn Coliseum, UNC (16-2, 3-1 ACC) surrounded halftime with a 17-4 run to take a 52-33 advantage with 17:45 to play in the game.
Despite giving up 10 steals in the first half which led to 18 Clemson points off turnovers, the Tar Heels shot 51.6 percent from the floor, dominated the glass and connected on 3-for-5 from three-point range to take a 44-31 lead at the half.
To begin the second half, Tigers forward Sam Perry stole the ball and scored on a crowd-pleasing dunk. But the Tar Heels responded with three straight field goals, prompting Tigers coach Oliver Purnell to call a timeout just 1:35 into the final period.
“So many of those (steals) were out in front so they’re just running it down the court and laying it up,” Williams said. “I challenged them that if you stop turning the ball over from the 10-second line, or stop throwing it out from the post, then you’ve got a better chance of being in the basketball game and doing what we tell them to do if we make them score against our defense.”
When Hansbrough scored on an eight-foot jumper with a little less than eight minutes remaining, the Tar Heels had pushed their lead to 20 points, soliciting another timeout call by Purnell.
“We wanted to come back and bounce back strong,” Hansbrough said. “Nothing’s going to take away that Virginia Tech feeling, but this is the way we’re supposed to feel.”
Clemson (17-2, 3-2) had been the nation’s last unbeaten team but has now dropped two straight. Following the only regular season meeting of the season between the two schools, Carolina, which had lost three of its last five at Clemson, leads the all-time series, 118-19.
The Tigers were coming off a five-point loss to a Maryland team that shot 61 percent at home. They made UNC look shaky, forcing 22 turnovers for the game and gathering 18 offensive rebounds.
But Clemson shot terribly – both from the floor (34 percent), three-point range (21 percent) and the free throw line (26 percent). The Tigers missed 14 from the charity stripe.
“When you come up dry from the field and you come up dry from the line, you’re going to have a hard time,” Purnell said.
Carolina returns home Saturday at 9 p.m. to face unranked Georgia Tech (13-4, 2-2), which will not have played since posting an 88-80 win over Florida State last Saturday.