Clemson (16-2, 2-2 ACC) knocked down six of its first nine 3-pointers in building a 38-36 lead with less than four minutes remaining in the first half, prompting many observers to expect yet another down-to-the-wire battle between these two programs. But Ellington (9-of-15, 2-of-6 on 3-pointers, six rebounds, seven assists) had another plan in mind, scoring seven straight points overlapping the halves to jumpstart a 24-4 spurt to give North Carolina (17-2, 3-2 ACC) a comfortable working margin down the stretch.
“I felt pretty good,” Ellington told reporters during his postgame interview. “Just coming off last game and being able to see some shots go in. Everybody says I play well against Clemson, so I had confidence coming in.”
The Philadelphia, Pa. snapped out of a season-long funk against Miami on Saturday night, lighting the Hurricanes up for 23 second-half points, including seven-straight 3-pointers. For Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell, that turnaround couldn’t have come at a worse time, considering Ellington’s recent explosive tendencies against his squad.
In his last four outings against Clemson, the junior guard is averaging 28.3 points per game, while connecting on 56.5 percent (39-of-69) of his field goal attempts and 51.9 percent (14-of-27) of his 3-pointers.
“I think some styles of game fits certain players,” UNC head coach Roy Williams replied when asked why his starting shooting guard has played so well against Clemson. “It’s up and down, and we have a point guard and other people who can find Wayne. [He’s] a shooter who can stand there, but if you come flying at him, he can put it on the floor and take it to the basket.”
Purnell’s aggressive, pressing style seems to play into the Tar Heels’ hands, especially with a one-man press-breaker like Ty Lawson (16 points, seven assists, two turnovers) running Williams’ up-tempo offense.
“That’s part of the reason why I play pretty well against Clemson, because Tywon is able to break down the press,” said Ellington, who has scored 20 points in consecutive games for the first time in his career. “I just run the floor and get open looks all night long.”
North Carolina eventually built its lead to 83-56, thanks to its unrelenting offensive attack and increased defensive effort in the second half. The Tar Heels shot 53.0 percent (35-of-66) from the floor, while holding the Tigers to 35.3 percent (24-of-68), including a 28.6 percent mark in the final stanza.
UNC also recovered from a two-game losing streak in the rebounding area, grabbing 41 boards to Clemson’s 39 on Wednesday.
“We played pretty doggone well, basically the whole game, except for the backboards and giving them too many open looks in both halves,” Williams said. “Fortunately for us, they missed a bunch of them in the second half.”
Tyler Hansbrough – who had a tooth knocked loose in the first half – scored 20 points and pulled down 10 rebounds, and Deon Thompson added 15 points and five rebounds. Danny Green continued his impressive stat-stuffing run of late, scoring seven points while posting five rebounds, three assists, three blocks and three steals.
Terrence Oglesby led Clemson with 22 points, 17 of which came in the first 16 minutes of play. Raymond Sykes added nine points and six rebounds for the Tigers, who lost their 54th straight game in Chapel Hill, lengthening the NCAA record streak.
“I told our guys what’s happened in the past has absolutely nothing to do with today’s game…” Williams said. “It’s a new game, new team, new season, so what’s happened in the past [doesn’t matter]. I didn’t mention the streak at all until after the game. I wanted them to be focused on playing the game, not focused on something that they have no control over.”
But even with the past having little relevance in Wednesday’s contest, the Tar Heels wanted to avoid the tag of the being the squad that snapped the streak.
“I don’t want to be on the team that loses,” Lawson said. “I want to keep this tradition going as long as we can. Hopefully they never win here.”
After rebounding from an 0-2 ACC start with three straight league wins, North Carolina now enters its first bye of the ACC schedule, and must wait seven days before playing Florida State in Tallahassee next Wednesday (9 p.m., Raycom).