Finish the Job

CLEMSON - The ninth-ranked Clemson basketball team travels to what could only be described as a house of horrors Wednesday night.

WHAT: No. 9 Clemson (16-1, 2-1) at No. 6 North Carolina (16-2, 2-2)
WHERE: Smith Center (21,750) - Chapel Hill, N.C.
WHEN: Wednesday, Jan. 21 (9:00 PM)
SPREAD: Tar Heels by 14
TV: ESPN (Mike Patrick, Dick Vitale)

OTHER LINKS:
* CUTigers.com Game Thread
* Video Preview - Part I
* Video Preview - Part II
* Game Notes
* 2008-09 Roster
* 2008-09 Schedule
And no matter how bad Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell would like to avoid the question, it has to be asked.

Does "the streak" weigh on the mind of the players and the program?

You know, the streak of 53 consecutive games in Chapel Hill without a win- the longest road losing streak in the history of college basketball.

For all the positive strides made by the Tigers under their sixth-year head coach, he can't go back in time and beat North Carolina in Chapel Hill, ending one of the most notorious streaks in all of college basketball.

But it is important to note, he has come close during the last few years ... very close. In fact last year saw the Tigers and Tar Heels go into double overtime after Clemson blew a 15 point lead with under 10 minutes to play.

"I just try to get across to our guys that was a script that was written long before they were born," Purnell said. "I like to look back to last year to draw from. We had three games that played we tough and we didn't finish the job. We had chances in at least two of those.

"And that really bothers us. And if really bothers us, we need to get back into that position and finish the job."

For the team itself, there is more focus how a win at North Carolina enhances its resume for the postseason, as opposed to ending the streak.

"We weren't part of that big streak," Oglesby said. "All we are focusing on is getting better position for the ACC tournament. This is a big road win for our resume."

Trevor Booker, Clemson's leading scorer at over 15 points a game and obviously one of the keys in tonight's matchup against Tyler Hansbrough, agrees.

Clemson made just 14-of-27 free throws in an overtime loss to North Carolina last year in Littlejohn Coliseum, and was outscored 31-1 at the charity stripe at the Smith Center in a double overtime loss a month later.
"It would mean a lot, because everybody is talking about it," he said. "But a win up there would be big for us because North Carolina is a great team. We want to win because this helps us in the ACC."

The Tar Heels, preseason ranked No. 1 and widely still considered the favorite in the ACC, enter tonight's game riding a two-game winning streak after consecutive losses to Wake Forest and Boston College.

Led by one of the top players in the nation and the leading scorer in the ACC in Hansbrough (22.9 ppg), doesn't make things any easier.

And of course, there's the normal cast of characters who all seem to be playing in their fifth or six season after deciding against turning pro again last offseason- Ty Lawson, one of the top point guards in the league, sharp-shooter and Tiger-killer Wayne Ellington, Danny Green and Deon Thompson.

It was Ellington to hit a back-breaking three-pointer with North Carolina trailing by two in overtime with time winding down in Littlejohn Coliseum last January. He also scored 28 in the double-overtime win over Clemson the following month.

"We played them three times last year and they could have won all three games," UNC head coach Roy Williams said. "Fortunately, we won all three games.

"They've had a great run. Wake Forest went in and played a heck of a basketball game against them on Saturday, so they'll be a wounded coming in here. And for us, we've just got to make sure that we come out with that emotion that we need to have."

But from Clemson's perspective, even after a 16-1 start, an undefeated record on the road and a top 10 ranking, it always comes back to the streak.

Last year the Tigers had their largest halftime lead in the history of the series in Chapel Hill at nine points- and still couldn't finish the job.

In fact, Clemson actually led by nine with just over three minutes left to play, before finding a way to fall in double overtime.

Will it happen again this year?

"I think people are giving us respect and they know we are a good basketball team, but that doesn't help us against North Carolina," senior captain K.C. Rivers said. "We have to stay focused and mentally prepare for what we need to do to win this game."

PROBABLE STARTERS
No. 9 Clemson (16-1)
G #2 Demontez Stitt (6-2,175) - 8.6 PPG, 3.6 APG
G #22 Terrence Oglesby (6-2,190) - 12.9 PPG, 1.8 RPG
C #12 Raymond Sykes (6-9,220) - 8.2 PPG, 5.0 RPG
F #1 K.C. Rivers (6-5,215) - 14.7 PPG, 6.5 RPG
F #35 Trevor Booker (6-7,240) - 15.1 PPG, 9.0 RPG

No. 6 North Carolina (16-2)
G #5 Ty Lawson (5-11,180) - 14.8 PPG, 6.7 APG
G #22 Wayne Ellington (6-4,200) - 13.4 PPG, 4.1 RPG
C #50 Tyler Hansbrough (6-9,250) - 22.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG
F #14 Danny Green (6-6,210) - 13.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG
F #21 Deon Thompson (6-8,240) - 12.0 PPG, 6.7 RPG

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