Tigers run over Tar Heels

Clemson pulls off one of the biggest victories in program history against North Carolina

pstrelow@thestate.comJanuary 14, 2010 

CLEMSON - A sedan T-boned North Carolina's bus as it reached the parking lot for pregame shootaround Wednesday.

Another blindsiding awaited the team inside Clemson's arena.

The No. 24 Tigers walloped No. 12 North Carolina 83-64, a rout of rare and relatively epic proportions.

Despite a few moments of trepidation, Clemson (14-3, 2-1 ACC) maintained a double-digit advantage from the opening four minutes on, hooking the program's sixth win by double digits in the teams' 144-game series.

Its 19-point triumph was its second-largest victory against the Tar Heels (12-5, 1-1), missing a 93-73 rout in January 1977, and UNC's worst loss under Roy Williams.

And none the least, the Tigers snapped 10-game series losing streak that dated to an 81-72 Clemson triumph in Littlejohn Coliseum during coach Oliver Purnell's initial season in 2003-04.

"We've been waiting for this moment for a long time," senior forward Trevor Booker said.

Booker proved unstoppable inside, racking up a game-high 22 points and nine rebounds on 8-of-12 shooting while coming up with a clutch bucket whenever the Tigers' momentum started lagging.

Junior point Demontez Stitt had a career-best 20 points and sophomore guard Tanner Smith added 14 as the capacity home crowd spent the final minute on its feet, with students flooded the court as the buzzer sounded.

"I had a dream last night where I had a good game, we won by a lot and everybody stormed out," Stitt said. "And it happened."

The victory also kicks Clemson into the mix atop the ACC, as only Virginia is unbeaten in league play after a maximum of three games. The Tigers hit the road for three of their next four games, beginning Saturday at N.C. State, and will be hard-pressed to avoid a letdown.

With UNC's frontcourt depth weakened by the absence of sophomore 7-footer Tyler Zeller (foot), the team's fourth-leading scorer, Clemson sought to further ratchet up the tempo and get in a track meet with a team renowned for its pace.

The strategy paid off, as much with its effect on rattling a suspect ballhandling squad as wearing down the Tar Heels' frontcourt.

Clemson forced UNC into 26 turnovers - matching its season high - 15 of which occurred in the first half. Consequently, the Tar Heels were unable to involve their interior tandem of bigs Deon Thompson (15.8 points per game) and Ed Davis (15.5).

Thompson and Davis each finished with a season-low 4 points, going a combined 4-for-15 from the field.

"(Clemson) had a tremendous sense of urgency, tremendous passion, tremendous aggressiveness," Williams said. "There's no reason for some things we did except the head coach did a poor job. And guys, that's not easy to say."

Reserve freshman guard Dexter Strickland scored 17 points, the only UNC player in double figures.

Clemson negated UNC's size advantage by spreading the floor offensively around a roaming Booker, and it paid off with a first-half spree in which the Tigers drained seven 3-pointers and led as many as 23 points.

After leading by 18 at halftime, the Tigers extended their lead back to 20 with 18:02 remaining before UNC began chipping away. The Tar Heels closed to within 12 points on a tip-in with 5:33 left that made it 71-59.

But two Stitt free throws and a Booker dunk repelled UNC's last charge, probably leaving Clemson wishing it met UNC in Chapel Hill this year with the chance to end its 54-game road losing streak in the series.

"We felt like we were the quicker team in transition, so the faster the pace, the better," Purnell said. "We thought we could turn them over because they struggled some, and that's what we do.

"The measuring stick tells me we're making progress, but we still have a long way to go."

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