By R.L. Bynum
Just when you thought that North Carolina had left the sloppy, poor-shooting basketball full of defensive lapses behind them, it all came back like another bad day for Bill Murray on “Groundhog Day.”
The Tar Heels rallied from a season-low 21 first-half points to pull within four but could come no closer in a surprising 63–50 loss at Clemson.
On Groundhog Day, the struggles returned and Carolina (11–6, 6–4 ACC) showed a shadow of the team that had won three consecutive games and six of the last seven. The Tar Heels had as many field goals (17) as turnovers and only assisted on eight of those buckets. The 50 point were a season-low (previous low was 66 in the win over Notre Dame.)
“If you have 17 turnovers in a low-possession game, we’re not going to have a lot of points from anywhere,” said UNC coach Roy Williams, after his team had a season-low 72 possessions. “Seventeen times, we gave it to them without a shot.”
A failed five-possession sequence after Garrison Brooks’ jumper cut Clemson’s lead to 42–38 with 12:38 left offered a small, ugly sample of the Tar Heels’ rough game.
Instead of points, those possessions produced an Andrew Platek turnover (stepped out of bounds); misses by RJ Davis (a layup), Day’Ron Sharpe (follow shot) and Brooks (follow dunk attempt); two missed Sharpe free throws; a missed jumper by Davis; and an Armando Bacot turnover.
“That would have made it a two-point game and, you know, you’d like your chances a little bit better,” Williams said.
After Hunter Tyson’s 3-pointer with 9:21 shoved the lead back to seven, UNC never got closer than than five.
Williams said that practices leading up to their first game in a week went well. But the defensive lapses throughout were tough to overcome. A dunk by guard Alex Hemenway on Clemson’s second possession of the game was a hint that it wouldn’t be UNC’s night.
“Hemenway is a shooter and we understand that,” Williams said. “So, we don’t deny and then he gets a ball, drives the basket and dunks on us. One time we had a guy cross the lane and we didn’t have anybody to help the helper and so he lays it up. So it was a total breakdown defensively and they hit us early.”
Clemson (11–5, 5–5) had lost four of its last five and looked terrible in a Saturday loss at Duke. But the Tigers found the right combination behind 16 points from Tyson and 14 from Clyde Trapp.
There was little movement on offense and there were lots of turnovers. The rebounding strength you’d expect from this tall UNC team wasn’t there for long stretches. Carolina only rebounded 23% of its misses, and there were a lot of them as the Tar Heels shot 38.6%.
Sharpe was the only Carolina player to score in double figures with 16 points. It was the first time no starter has scored in double figures since a 78–55 loss to Rutgers on Dec. 28, 2010, in New York. He also led UNC’s struggles at the free throw line, making only four of 10 attempts as the Heels made 11 of 21 from the line.
“Our big guys weren’t as active as we needed them to be,” said Williams said, whose team scored a season-low 18 points inside after averaging 35.8 per game before Tuesday.
The most vexing numbers of the night were from Bacot, who came into the game as UNC’s leading scorer with 12.6 points per game: one point, one shot from the floor, three rebounds and two turnovers.
“That was hard to understand,” Williams said of Bacot, who had eight field goals in each of the three previous games on 10, 12 and 10 attempts. “For the last two games, he was really active. It was bad when Aamir Simms, the first time he got the ball, drove him right to the basket and laid it up over top of him. Sometimes those kinds of plays tend to affect kids mentally and maybe Armando couldn’t shake that part of it.”
Clemson jumped out to a 13–4 lead on its way to leading 33–21 after a forgettable first half for the Tar Heels and their bigget halftime deficit of the season. That was the lowest-scoring first half since Virginia held them to 18 first-half points on Dec. 8, 2019. In the first half, UNC had 10 turnovers, eight field goals and two offensive rebounds.
“I think we struggled today,” said Brooks, who had eight points and nine rebounds. “You’re going to have days you struggle. Most of the time you overcome it. But today we struggled and didn’t win. I think we can still learn from it. I think it’s something where we just come back to practice and get better. I don’t think we took a step backward.”
Next, the Tar Heels head to Durham to play Duke (7–6, 5–4), which is coming off a surprising 77–75 loss at Miami and has lost four of its last six games.
Clemson 63, North Carolina 50
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