UNC-Clemson: The Good & Bad

UNC-Clemson: The Good & Bad

CHAPEL HILL - With an unblemished home record against Clemson on the line, the North Carolina Tar Heels overcame the absence of its top post player, foul trouble to its best player, a stomach virus to its point guard, and a six-point second-half deficit to increase its home record over the Tigers to 49-0 with a 68-66 win at the Dean Smith Center on Tuesday night.

Here is a look at the good and the bad of UNC's 10th win in 15 games, and second in three Atlantic Coast Conference contests.

GOOD

Rashad McCants - Saddled with foul trouble all night, McCants only played 22 minutes. But he scored 20 points and had four rebounds and an assist with ZERO turnovers, an area he's improved in the last few games. He made 8-13 from the floor, including 3-7 from 3-point range. Two of those treys put UNC up 59-56 and 62-58. He also scored nine consecutive points when he re-entered the game with 6:46 left to play.

McCants said after the game he wanted to be more fiery than over the last month. He wanted to bring that rage back to the court. Whatever it was that brought about this change in approach, which may have also been what tempered it last month, had great timing.

Raymond Felton - Felton had his best game as a Heel. He did turn the ball over four times, but UNC can live with that when he is as aggressive as he was, shoots as well as he did, and also contributes eight assists. He showed some leadership on Tuesday, and appears to be coming out of what some have called a shell. The bottom line is that he is more comfortable on the floor, and now that his scoring is inching closer to what folks thought would be the norm, Carolina should be a more difficult out.

Jawad Williams - Williams only grabbed three rebounds but he did pump in 19 points and continued to grow into the role as team leader. He is the main communicator on defense, gets the team together during dead ball situations, and constantly points and knows where his mates should be in seemingly every situation.

2nd half defense - The Tar Heels held Clemson to just 35.5 percent (11-31) from the floor in the second half after the Tigers hit at a 51.7 (15-29) clip in the first period. They forced nine turnovers while limiting to Tigers to only five assists, as passing lanes were more contested as was dribble penetration. UNC also held Edward Scott, Clemson's leading scorer, without a field goal over the final 12 minutes of the game.

Grit/Matt Doherty - The Tar Heels continued to show grit, as they did in the second half last Saturday at Virginia. Many fans will say beating Clemson by two points at home is not an accomplishment, but it is. With May on crutches, McCants missing for 18 minutes and the stomach bug bothering Felton - all three star-studded freshmen if you're keeping track - they still managed to win. Note that four of last year's regulars - on a team that finished 8-20 if you need to be reminded - and a pair of big freshmen, who are also projects, along with Felton played major roles in the win. Also note that Clemson is significantly better than a year ago, Larry Shyatt notwithstanding. They play much better defense and are tougher and smarter. They are also a much more experienced team than UNC and might have the best PG in the ACC in Scott, who was shut down over the game's final 12 minutes.

Credit the players, but also credit Doherty. Were there some mistakes made? Sure. But for the most part, it was a good win for the team and for Doherty. Judging this team against those from the Dean Smith era isn't smart, or fair at this time. So, all things considered, it was a quality victory.

Energy - The Heels came out with tremendous energy. McCants was certainly hyped, but so were his mates, and they had extra skips in their steps. The key now is to keep that level of energy for 40 minutes, or at least 37 or 38.

3-point shooting - The Tar Heels were a respectable 36.8% (7-19) from beyond the arc, a percent they can live with if they can convert more layups. Felton had what Doherty called a "break out game" from the perimeter by shooting 4-6, and McCants drilled two huge 3s late in the game and finished 3-7 on the night.

Fans - The fans that showed up were excellent. That may have been one of the top five non-Duke game crowds at the Dean Dome in some time. They were into the game from the outset and sensed the intensity on the floor. In fact, many sections in the lower bowl were on their feet for a good portion of the second half. It's unfortunate though that only 17,451 people showed up.

49-0 - The Tar Heels are now 49-0 at home against Clemson.

BAD

Another drought - UNC went 6:18 near the end of the first half with just four points while the Tigers were roaring, and cutting UNC's 15-point margin to nothing. Carolina also went 6:13 without a point in the second half, and in the process saw a 43-39 lead turned into a 49-43 deficit. The droughts, which occur in nearly every game, come at various times. There is no consistent time in the game when the Tar Heels go into the tank. Tuesday's droughts may or may not have had much or anything to do with McCants being on the bench in foul trouble. The fact is, they have been through many previous droughts with him on the floor. It appears to be more a team wide problem, an execution problem, and perhaps a focus problem. In other words, it's a problem!

Carolina opened the game with tremendous movement away from the ball and timely passing. The game tape will reveal that not to be the case during the empty stretches. Also, their spacing is terrible at times.

Free throws - The Heels didn't go according to form on Tuesday. Coming of a poor free throw effort at Virginia, it was assumed Carolina would shoot well against the Tigers. Nope. UNC was a miserable 9-16 (56.3%) from the charity stripe. Had they been more accurate, especially when missing three of five prior to McCants' two huge 3s, Felton's free throws may not have been crucial.

Attendance - As mentioned earlier, the 17,451 fans that showed up were terrific, but for there to be 4,000 empty seats for a conference game, especially with the streak on the line and these young kids needing support from their fans, is inexcusable. A program of this stature should never have trouble selling out any game, especially an ACC contest.

Assists/turnovers - The Tar Heels notched a rare win despite having more turnovers (16) than assists (14). Will Johnson, who otherwise played well, had three turnovers in nine minutes. Felton had four and Williams and Jackie Manuel had a pair each.

Early lead wiped away - The Hees went up 27-12 with 8:17 left in the first half but saw the lead crumble, with Clemson eventually moving ahead at 32-31 with 2:15 remaining before intermission. Carolina has often gotten out to big leads only to see them disappear. McCants' foul trouble and Felton's ill stomach certainly contributed to Tuesday's troubles, but nevertheless, it's an issue that must be improved.

Field goal % - Although it was the Heels' best shooting night from the floor in six games, they still made just 43.1% (25-58) of their shots. Melvin Scott was only 1-7 off the bench and Jackie Manuel, whom he usually shares a position, was only 2-6. The Heels missed/had blocked at least six layups.

Bench scoring - The bench totaled only five points and just one field goal (Scott) in 51 minutes of action. They combined for no assists but six turnovers, but did collect nine rebounds. As a group, bench players were 1-10 from the field.

UP NEXT

The Tar Heels entertain Connecticut on Saturday at 5 p.m. The Huskies are a national power, but the game offers UNC an excellent opportunity to make some noise with a victory. The game will be televised by ESPN.


Senior writer Andrew Jones is in his seventh year with Inside Carolina. He also covers the ACC for the Wilmington Star-News. He hosts a late afternoon radio show on ESPN Radio, WMFD AM630 in Wilmington and can be reached via e-mail at: AndrewJones@AM630.net.

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