UNC brings passion in impressive win over Clemson

By R.L. Bynum

CHAPEL HILL — The passion and energy that didn’t show up until it was too late against Wake Forest were there in heavy doses Saturday against Clemson.

With the Tar Heels dominating inside and finding the shooting range from the perimeter, they earned a must-win, knocking off co-ACC leader Clemson 91–71 to snap a three-game losing streak. After UNC’s best offensive game of the season, it will need to sustain that through its upcoming games to solidify its NCAA resume.

“It’d be nice if we could bottle it up,” UNC coach Hubert Davis said. “But I’m just very thankful; I told them to enjoy today. It was fun to have a front-row seat to see them do that.” 

Carolina (16–9, 8–6 ACC) owned the boards in building the lead, producing numerous second-chance points.

Caleb Love scored 23 points, tied his career-high with six 3-pointers and dished out five assists to give the Tar Heels a potent inside-outside combination that has been missing in recent games, with RJ Davis adding 17 points and four 3-pointers. Carolina moved to 27–3 when Love has at least five assists.

Armando Bacot (19 points, 11 rebounds) did his part with his 65th career double-double and 16th this season.

“I feel like everything happens for a reason. That needs to happen for us to get to where we’re going to,” Love said of the Wake Forest loss, which led RJ Davis to call a players-only meeting after practice on Thursday. “If that didn’t happen we probably wouldn’t have had the players-only meeting. We probably would have still had stuff lingering on. So, I feel like that needed to happen.”

Coach Davis gave the team more to think about by making some players practice wearing 15-pound vests at times in practice Friday.

“I told them this is what we’re playing with,” Coach Davis said. “You’ve got to put that stuff down. All the noise from the phone, family and friends, fans. Just put the weight down. I would like you to play a game without this weighted vest, allowing you to play freely and have fun.”


RJ Davis said he called the meeting as one of the team’s leaders to voice his opinion and hear from his teammates and try to suggest a different approach to issues.

“Not always having to scream at each other, trying to kill each other in practice. Just taking a step back a little bit,” Davis said. “Having a different mindset. I felt like it really brought us together. Went really well. Everyone was able to let their guard down and just open up a little bit. And I felt like that was really needed. So that’s why I did it.”

Davis didn’t want to get too specific about the opinions he offered to the team in that meeting.

“It’s just more so just open up to each other about personal stuff and stuff like that,” he said.

Bacot, who took the initiative to talk to the team after the loss at Wake Forest game, said the meeting was productive.

“We addressed the issues that we had within the team and what we had to do going forward to win games,” Bacot said. “I’m not really gonna go into details because it is a players-only meeting. But we definitely built off that and we got everything off our chest.”

All that went on after the Wake Forest game seemed to have changed the team’s mindset.

“They were playing with the sense of joyfulness, and you could just see it with the way that they were playing,” Coach Davis said. “It wasn’t just for when we personally made the play. They were just as or even more excited and happy and joyful for their teammates. I just think it’s always a wonderful, beautiful trait to be able to celebrate other people’s success.”

Leaky Black had seven points and seven rebounds, was a game-high +25, and played terrific defense on Clemson’s Hunter Tyson, holding him to a season-low three points.

“The only guy on the team I felt like could consistently really defend him was Leaky,” Coach Davis said. “He was fantastic. Not only did he do a good job defending him in terms of scoring, but kept him off the free-throw line. It just shows how elite Leaky is defensively.”

Coach Davis loved seeing 17 assists on 32 field goals and said that there was a stretch in the first half that had him getting emotional.

“It was midway through the first half and we were just sharing the basketball and then we got the ball out of the post and somehow it got to Caleb and the crowd was going crazy,” he said.

The switch will have been flipped on the season if UNC can replicate Saturday’s performance in upcoming games.

“I’m just praying that we can put this together for the rest of the season,” Bacot said. “And, hopefully, it can carry on. Because, Clemson, they’re a good team, they shoot the ball extremely well and they defend. And it’s hard to beat a team like that. But, we beat them pretty badly.”

P.J. Hall scored eight consecutive points to give Clemson (18–7, 10–4) an 8–2 lead before a Black layup more than four minutes in was UNC’s first basket.

A D’Marco Dunn circus shot on a drive to beat the shot clock, a nice Dunn pass for a Jalen Washington layup and two Love 3-pointers gave Carolina a 22–17 lead, prompting a Clemson timeout with 8:49 left in the first half.

A Puff Johnson 3-pointer and Bacot dunk capped a 19–10 UNC run late in the first half as the Tar Heels led 42–33 at halftime. Carolina poured it on from there, opening the second half with a 9–2 run with buckets from four of the five starters.

An 11–4 run ballooned the UNC lead to 19 with two Love 3-pointers and an RJ Davis 3, with Black’s layup making it 62–42 with 14:17 remaining. A 13–2 run shoved the lead to 25 on a Bacot dunk with 5:08 left.

Hall led Clemson with 18 points, with Chase Hunter adding 15 and Brevin Galloway 10.

NOTES — It’s a quick turnaround for UNC, which is at home at 7 p.m. Monday against Miami (20–5, 11–4), which held off Louisville at home Saturday night 93–85 for the Canes’ fourth win in a row. … The Tar Heels’ 91 points are their most in an ACC game this season and the most since a 100–67 win over The Citadel on Dec. 13. … Carolina’s 15 3-pointers were the most in an ACC game this season and equaled a season-high against The Citadel). … Carolina tied its season-low with seven turnovers (also against N.C. State and Duke.) … Love also scored six 3-pointers last season against Florida State, Marquette and UCLA. … Carolina is 5–3 this season and 20–3 in three seasons when Love scores at least 20 points. … After playing for only 29 seconds in the previous four games (all against Pittsburgh), sophomore Dontrez Styles played six minutes against Clemson. … Clemson’s largest previous margin of defeat was 87–77 at Wake Forest on Jan. 17. … Carolina’s walk-ons played for 20 seconds, their second action this season after last getting in for 93 seconds against The Citadel. They also played in the exhibition game against Johnson C. Smith. … At halftime, UNC honored recently retired volleyball coach Joe Segula. … Carolina won its second consecutive game against Clemson and avenged a loss in the last previous home game against the Tigers. The Tar Heels lead the series 135–23 and are 60–1 against Clemson in Chapel Hill, including 29–1 in the Smith Center. 

UNC 91, Clemson 71

UNC lineup combinations


ACC standings

No. 16 Miami15–524–6
No. 13 Virginia15–523–6
No. 25 Pittsburgh14–621–10
N.C. State12–822–9
North Carolina11–919–12
Wake Forest10–1018–13
Boston College9–1115–16
Virginia Tech8–1218–13
Florida State7–139–22
Georgia Tech6–1414–17
Notre Dame3–1711–20

Saturday’s games
Duke 62, North Carolina 57
No. 13 Virginia 75, Louisville 60
Georgia Tech 73, Boston College 65
Virginia Tech 82, Florida State 60
Syracuse 72, Wake Forest 63
No. 26 Miami 78, No. 25 Pittsburgh 76
Clemson 87, Notre Dame 64
End of regular season

UNC statistics

UNC statistics (ACC games only)

(current ranking)
28FridayW, 101–40Johnson C. Smith HomeExhibition
7MondayW, 69–56UNCWHome1–0
11FridayW, 102–86College of CharlestonHome2–0
15TuesdayW, 72–66Gardner-WebbHome3–0
20SundayW, 80–64James MadisonHome4–0
Phil Knight Invitational
24ThursdayW, 89–81First round: PortlandPortland5–0
25FridayL, 70–65Semifinals:
Iowa State
27SundayL, 103–101,
4 OTs
No. 1 Alabama
ACC/Big Ten Challenge
30WednesdayL, 77–65 No. 21 IndianaBloomington, Ind.5–3
4SundayL, 80–72 Virginia TechBlacksburg, Va.5–4,
0–1 ACC
10SaturdayW, 75–59Georgia TechHome6–4,
1–1 ACC
13TuesdayW, 100–67The CitadelHome7–4
CBS Sports Classic
17SaturdayW, 89–84, OTOhio StateNew York8–4
Jumpman Invitational
21WednesdayW, 80–76MichiganCharlotte9–4
30 Friday L, 76–74PittsburghPittsburgh9–5,
1–2 ACC
4WednesdayW, 88–79Wake ForestHome10–5,
2–2 ACC
7SaturdayW, 81–64Notre DameHome11–5,
3–2 ACC
10TuesdayL, 65–58No. 14 VirginiaCharlottesville11–6,
3–3 ACC
14SaturdayW, 80–59LouisvilleLouisville, Ky.12–6,
4–3 ACC
17TuesdayW, 72–64Boston CollegeHome13–6,
5–3 ACC
21SaturdayW, 80–69N.C. StateHome14–6,
6–3 ACC
24TuesdayW, 72–68SyracuseSyracuse, N.Y.15–6,
7–3 ACC
1WednesdayL, 65–64PittsburghHome15–7,
7–4 ACC
4SaturdayL, 63–57No. 12 DukeDurham15–8,
7–5 ACC
7TuesdayL, 92–85Wake ForestWinston-Salem15–9,
7–6 ACC
11SaturdayW, 91–71ClemsonHome 16–9,
8–6 ACC
13MondayL, 80–72No. 16 MiamiHome16–10,
8–7 ACC
19SundayL, 77–69N.C. StateRaleigh16–11,
8–8 ACC
22WednesdayW, 63–59Notre DameSouth Bend, Ind.17–11,
9–8 ACC
25SaturdayW, 71–63No. 14 VirginiaHome18–11,
10–8 ACC
27MondayW, 77–66Florida StateTallahassee, Fla.19–11,
11–8 ACC
4SaturdayL, 62–57No. 12 DukeHome19–12,
11–9 ACC
ACC tournament
8WednesdayW, 85–61Boston CollegeGreensboro20–12
9ThursdayL, 68–59No. 14 Virginia Greensboro20–13

Photo via @UNC_Basketball


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