North Carolina aims for revenge on No. 19 Clemson

NCAA Basketball

In some ways Saturday night’s visit to Chapel Hill, N.C. by No. 19 Clemson to take on North Carolina marks a long-awaited rematch for the host Tar Heels.

This will be the first Clemson-North Carolina meeting since last January’s historic result. That’s when the Tigers won for the first time in Chapel Hill, ending an 0-for-59 mark courtesy of a crazy comeback. Aamir Simms was one of the heroes for Clemson in last season’s 79-76 overtime triumph in Chapel Hill, with the Tigers wiping out a 10-point deficit in the last two minutes of regulation. Simms scored 20 points, including a 3-pointer that forced overtime.

The Tigers are realizing they don’t have to always count on him. Alex Hemenway has come through in the clutch recently.

“Alex just has an ever temperament about him,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “He doesn’t get too high or too low, and that’s one of his strengths. We have a lot of confidence in him.”

The Tar Heels have been involved in more narrow results in their past two games. They’ve won consecutive games — 66-65 against Notre Dame and then 67-65 on Wednesday night at Miami — by two points or less for the first time since 2017 when they topped Kentucky 75-73 and then Oregon 77-76 in the NCAA tournament regional final and national semifinal, respectively.

The recent close calls have been full of nervous moments for the Tar Heels (7-4, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who’ve dropped out of the national rankings.

“We’ve got to stop turning the ball over — that’s the biggest thing,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said. “This is not biddy basketball. Sometimes you’ve just got to figure it out and play better.”

Clemson (9-1, 3-1) has found ways to win as well, including in Tuesday night’s 74-70 overtime against visiting North Carolina State.

Sophomore reserve guard Nick Honor led the Tigers with a season-high 21 points on 8-for-11 shooting, including the game-tying 3-pointer in the last minute of regulation. He made five of six attempts from beyond the arc.

“Nick made shots and gave us a huge jolt of confidence,” Brownell said.

North Carolina made a season-high nine 3-point shots at Miami. That included a season-best 45-percent shooting from long range.

Yet the Tar Heels’ 20 turnovers were concerning. North Carolina somehow prevailed despite combined 2-for-14 shooting with seven turnovers for point guards Caleb Love and RJ Davis.

“We’ve got to play better,” Williams said. “They’re both shooting the ball terribly and they’re good shooters. Sometimes you’ve got to man up and start making shots.”

North Carolina can be encouraged by junior guard Leaky Black, who made the game-winning shot last weekend against Notre Dame and followed that with a career-high 16 points at Miami.

Getting forward Garrison Brooks into a groove is considered crucial for the Tar Heels.

“He just has to get the feel back,” Williams said. “… Garrison has got to go back to being Garrison, and if he does that it’s really going to help our team.”

In the meantime, Day’Ron Sharpe has given the Tar Heels a boost in the post. He had 16 rebounds in the Miami game, tying for the second-most by a North Carolina freshman.

For the Tar Heels, this game begins a stretch with three home games in a four-game span. They’re 3-0 at home, though they were scheduled for only two home games in their first nine games for the fewest outings in Chapel Hill since the 2007-08 season.

This is the first of two scheduled Clemson-North Carolina meetings this season.

–Field Level Media

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