Heels Drown Tigers in Defense

CLEMSON, S.C. – Roy Williams copied and improved upon South Carolina head coach Frank Martin’s defensive game plan as No. 19 North Carolina routed Clemson, 74-50, in both teams’ ACC opener on Saturday night.

On Dec. 19, the Gamecocks handed their rivals a 23-point defeat by holding the Tigers to 29.8 percent shooting and forcing 13 turnovers. Two weeks later, Williams had his team watch various clips of that South Carolina loss during its Clemson prep.

“South Carolina was able to take them out of what they wanted to do by denying passes and pressuring their guards all of the way out to halfcourt,” UNC junior guard Marcus Paige told reporters following the win. “We were able to force turnovers that way and hold them to under 20 percent from the field in the first half. That was our biggest focus – outplaying them in the effort category and trying to take them out of what they do. We were able to do that.”

UNC limited Clemson to three made field goals over a 17-minute stretch to open the game in building a 32-12 lead. The Tigers finished the opening half with five field goals in 30 possessions, averaging .567 points per possession.

Clemson shot 17.9 percent from the floor in the first half, the lowest by a UNC opponent in a half since N.C. State shot 17.6 percent (6-of-34) in the first half on Jan. 12, 2008.

The Tigers shot 28.3 percent (15-of-53) for the game, marking the ninth time this season UNC has held an opponent below 35 percent shooting. It was the first time the Tar Heels has held an opponent below 30 percent shooting.

Brad Brownell’s squad entered Saturday’s contest ranked 178th nationally in effective field goal percentage (48.5), yet were far worse against UNC. The Tar Heels extended its defensive pressure well outside the 3-point line and utilized its traps to disrupt Clemson’s halfcourt sets.

When the Tigers managed to get the ball inside, they were unable to score against UNC’s bigs, settling for 12 points in the paint, including just two in the first half.

“We didn’t want them to be able to initiate their offense, so the point guards wanted to put pressure on their point guards and make them start their offense out high,” sophomore guard Nate Britt said. “And we wanted to try to deny that initial pass and not let them be able to run their sets. I feel like that’s what we did in the beginning of the game. They really couldn’t get good shots early on.”

Williams has harped on his team’s ability to finish defensive possessions on the boards, and after Clemson grabbed four offensive rebounds in the opening minutes, UNC allowed just six the rest of the game, prompting the 12th-year UNC head coach to tell reporters that he was “very pleased” with his team’s work on the glass.

“We had more points off offensive rebounds than they did at the half,” Williams said. “They’re going to get some. Brad’s team is not going to shoot it like that. They missed quite a few shots; they had a lot of opportunities to get second shots.”

UNC had 33 defensive rebounds to Clemson’s 10 offensive rebounds and outscored its opponent 16-6 in second-chance points.

The Tar Heels rank top-10 nationally in field goal percentage defense and appear to only be getting better as the freshmen continue to mesh with the returning players.

“I feel like we’re improving defensively every game,” Britt said. “Tonight we had a great performance defensively against a good Clemson team and I think that can give us confidence going into the rest of conference play.”

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