Double Overtime Heartbreak

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – If Clemson can't win a basketball game when up by 11 with just over three minutes left in regulation or make more than one measly free throw in 50 minutes of play, then it seems entirely possible the Tigers will never win at North Carolina.

In the previous 52 meetings in Chapel Hill, there was always a sense of when and how the Tar Heels would win, not if. The feeling was no different this time, either, even when Clemson was up 15 with just over 10 minutes to play.

And that's what happened as No. 3 North Carolina some how and some way pulled out a 103-93 double-overtime victory over a Clemson team that was absolutely devastated after the final buzzer.

The Tar Heels have now won an NCAA record 53 straight home games against Clemson.

"We know we were a better team tonight," said Tigers senior forward James Mays, who grew up outside of Raleigh. "This one really hurts. You just can't describe it."

The Clemson players should feel devastated for this is the second time in five weeks that they let the Tar Heels (22-2, 7-2 ACC) win a game in overtime they had no business doing.

But when a team is outscored 31-1 at the free throw line, odds are it's going to lose. When looked at closely, that number almost seems fake. How in the world can one team outscore another by 30 at the free throw line?

Then again, how can a team only make one free throw in seven attempts?

North Carolina missed fewer free throws than the Tigers even though the Tar Heels took 36 attempts.

Maybe Clemson's play down the wire can be attributed the pressure and reality of the situation all as they recognized that they were on the verge of making Clemson history.

"You never know, (it may have affected them) a little bit," Tigers coach Oliver Purnell said. "Certainly sometimes when you feel pressure, you slow down, so you never know."

After Mays dunked it with 3:11 left in regulation, the tiny thoughts of maybe this could be the year started to creep their way into everyone's thoughts. The dunk gave the Tigers a 79-68 lead, which matched Clemson's lead at halftime, the largest ever at North Carolina.

Clemson looked as though it would erase all those demons. Senior guard Cliff Hammonds was doing his best to ensure that happened as all of his 31 points came in regulation.

But that's when all those past failures at North Carolina came rushing back and landed squarely on Clemson's shoulders.

The Tigers (17-6, 5-4 ACC) only scored three points the rest of the way as Clemson clammed up, while the Tar Heels got hot, scoring on their final six possessions.

Even so, Tigers freshman point guard Demontez Stitt had a chance to put Clemson up four with 36 seconds left by making a pair of free throws. But as the case with every Tiger attempt except for one, he missed.

"I was just trying to keep my composure and it felt good coming off," he said. "It went in and out. That's the luck of the draw."

Right on cue, Quinton Thomas tied things up at 82-82 with 25.4 seconds left, giving Clemson the final shot to win it. But a driving layup by K.C. Rivers went array and it sent the game into overtime.

"Down the stretch we tried to go shot-for-shot with them and you can't do that," Hammonds said. "We just lost our focus on defense down the stretch."

Oddly enough, once in the first extra session, the Tigers were once again in position to end the dreadful streak.

Clemson was up 87-86 with David Potter standing at the free throw line for a one-and-one with 1:39 left, but he, too, missed. At that point, the Tigers had yet to make a free throw the entire game.

"I was a little nervous and then I just calmed down and relaxed," Potter said. "I just did my normal routine and shot it. It felt good coming out of my hands, but it was just a little long and it hit the back of the rim."

North Carolina tied it with 38 seconds left, ironically enough on a pair of free throws by Thomas, which allowed the Tigers to essentially have the last shot. After calling a couple of timeouts, Clemson was never able to get a shot off, which sent the game into double overtime.

Once in those final five minutes, the game was over relatively quick as North Carolina raced to a 96-93 lead and never looked back. The Tigers were completely gassed mentally and physically.

"I think they were in better condition than us in the overtime," Hammonds said. "We need to be in better shape if we're going to consider ourselves a defensive team."

North Carolina coach Roy Williams for one is glad his team doesn't have to face the Tigers again in the regular season. The two teams haven't played an overtime game in 30 years and they've played two in a little more than a month.

"We were looking at a 30-point butt kicking with about five or six minutes into the game," he said. "I feel awfully lucky to beat them twice. I think they are a big-time, big-time basketball team. I wish everybody had to play them twice."

Clemson now has to make sure that this loss doesn't cost them another one or two this week with lingering effects.

"We'll have to see," Purnell said. "I told the team that we certainly can't afford to take time to think about this too long."

The other major question is will Clemson ever win in Chapel Hill? If it can't happen this year, when will it?

"I haven't had a chance to think about that yet," Purnell said. "Maybe I will on the plane back. Maybe I will down the line."

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