CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Clemson came to Chapel Hill and left with an 80-69 loss to North Carolina, just like the previous 57 games the Tigers have played at North Carolina.
Given they’ve never won on the road in the series and were a 15-point underdog on Wednesday night, the Tigers played like a team with nothing to lose. They faced a 16-point deficit about midway through the second half but pulled within six points twice.
Whether they believed they could actually complete the rally or not is a moot point, because the Tar Heels never felt they would lose:
Marcus Paige wants nothing more than for people to stop asking him about his health. With his two-handed dunk on a backdoor cut in the second half, maybe the questions will stop coming. Paige jammed his right ankle, the same ankle he had surgery on back in April, against Appalachian State. Roy Williams limited his minutes against UNC-Greensboro, but Paige went all out in the ACC opener. Paige finished with a game-high 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting and five assists. He’s back to taking contact and scraping for the ball with no pain.
Just when it seemed safe to believe in Brice Johnson’s consistency, the bad version of the senior forward showed up against Clemson. Johnson had been averaging 22 points and 11 rebounds in the past four games with starting center Kennedy Meeks injured. But he missed his first six shots from the floor and had just one point and two rebounds at halftime. He finished with three points and nine rebounds.To make matters worse, he seemed disengaged, inexplicably picking up his second foul with 1.2 seconds left in the first half after a missed shot under his own basket. He got his third foul and a spot on the bench just 16 seconds into the second half going after a loose ball.
Carolina can withstand outings like this against teams like Clemson and Georgia Tech -- Saturday's opponent -- who are expected to be in the lower tier of the ACC. But come Monday, with their trip to Florida State, the Heels will need Johnson to bring his best effort.
Speaking of the ACC schedule, Carolina’s is back-loaded, with all of its toughest games in February. So it shouldn’t be a surprise for UNC to finish the month of January undefeated, especially if on Monday the Heels can escape Tallahassee, Florida -- a notoriously difficult place for them to play.