Although the Tar Heels have been terribly inconsistent this season, they were able to continue one of the most consistent streaks in all of college basketball: Keeping the Clemson Tigers winless in Chapel Hill.That’s right, Clemson has NEVER defeated North Carolina in Chapel Hill, extending the win streak to 57 games.
To be brutally honest, I expected the Heels’ home win streak against Clemson to end last night. Clemson was 13-5 overall and 4-2 in the ACC entering Sunday night’s game, and the Heels were just 1-4 in conference play. While Clemson impressed everyone around the ACC by defeating Duke a few weeks ago, UNC had been equally unimpressive in recent weeks.
But the Tar Heels looked impressive from the get-go, and soundly defeated the Tigers 80-61 in a game that was never really close. The Tar Heels shot the ball efficiently from the outside, going 8-18 (44%) from 3-point range for the game. Marcus Paige made 3-7 three-point attempts, Leslie McDonald finally shot an acceptable percentage making two of his five attempts for 40%, and Nate Britt even knocked down a rare three-pointer and ended up 1-2 from deep.
The Heels had a very efficient game from the floor as well, shooting 55% and making 31 of their 56 attempts. James Michael McAdoo went 9-13, J.P. Tokoto went 2-3, Kennedy Meeks went 5-9, Leslie McDonald went 4-7 (hallelujah), Isaiah Hicks was 1-2, and Nate Britt went 2-3.
James Michael McAdoo led the way for the Heels, and finally played like the lottery pick everyone expected him to be two years ago. McAdoo finished with 22 points, 7 rebounds, dished out two assists, and a block. Kennedy Meeks continues to bring a smile to my face every time I watch him play; not only because he looks like a big teddy bear that I want to hug, but because he is so consistent with his production. The freshman finished with 11 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks, and had an assist and a steal, all while shooting above 50%.
If Leslie McDonald can contribute 12 points and shoot above 50% from the floor on a nightly basis, this team could be very successful in the next few months. When he is efficient with his outside shooting, it forces the defenses to guard further away from the basket, which allows more room for penetration from Marcus Paige and J.P. Tokoto and more room for the big guys (McAdoo, Meeks, Brice Johnson) to operate.
The Tar Heels have played solid defense for the most part this season and continued to do so by limiting Clemson to just 34% shooting (18-53) from the floor. The Heels outrebounded the Tigers by 6, held Clemson to just 7 assists and forced them to commit 10 turnovers. The Tar Heels have one of the more athletic teams in the ACC which can help them tremendously on the defensive end; the next step is converting defensive stops into points on the other end.
At the moment I would consider North Carolina to be a bubble team. The record isn’t great, or even good for what we’re used to seeing from the Tar Heels, but the quality wins are giving the Heels a fighting chance to make the big dance. The Tar Heels have a legitimate shot at winning their next four games as they will face Georgia Tech, N.C. State, Maryland, and Notre Dame. If the Heels can win at least three of these games, they will face off against arch-rival Duke with a 5-5 record in ACC play. Sunday night’s impressive win against Clemson gives me hope that the North Carolina Tar Heels haven’t given up hope this season.