Call it overconfidence, a letdown after a big win or playing down to the competition; but on Senior Night at the Smith Center, the Tar Heels suffered through their worst half of basketball – luckily, it was the first half. Even more fortunate was the fact that McCants picked up his torrid three-point shooting touch right where he left off Sunday at N.C. State.
"I'm a pretty good shooter, so all of a sudden when I shoot the ball well, it's like, ‘He's hot,'" said McCants, who led all scorers with 30 points. "But I practice them like that all the time."
Defensively, Carolina was more than sufficiently effective holding the Tigers (10-17, 3-13) to 30-percent shooting in the first half while forcing 14 turnovers in the opening stanza and 23 for the game.
"It was an ugly start to the game offensively, but we played well defensively," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "In the second half, we played well offensively and not so good defensively."
But Tuesday night was a showcase for McCants, who must now be garnering some serious consideration for conference Player of the Year honors. He was unconscious. No longer characterized by the media as a brooding malcontent, the Asheville sophomore lit up Clemson for eight threes – tying a UNC record held by five other players.
"He continued to play like one of the best players in the league and I think he's one of the best players in college basketball," Williams said. "The good news is he can play even better. He's played as well as anyone and has made as many big shots as anyone.
"He's come a long way," Williams continued. "He still has some lapses on the defensive end of the floor, but I'm going to be his biggest critic and his biggest fan. He needs that balance and I think he wants that. He's a competitive rascal – much discussed and much cussed – but I would hate to see where we would be without him."
"McCants was the difference," Clemson coach Oliver Purnell added. "He just felt it. Maybe the biggest shot he hit all night was the shot near halftime to put them up by eight. Every time we made a run with the momentum, there was McCants to break that momentum with a big shot."
Sean May added 17 points and seven rebounds, while Raymond Felton dished nine assists to add to his league-leading average.
"I just tried to stay around the bucket [in the second half]," May said. "Ray hit me with some easy looks and it was just a good night for me."
The win marked the first time this season that the Tar Heels (18-8, 8-7 ACC) eclipsed the .500 mark in league play. Oh yeah, and as somewhat of an afterthought, they also extended their incredible home winning streak over the Tigers to 50 games against zero losses, spanning 78 years. Carolina opened the series against Clemson with a 50-26 victory in The Tin Can on Jan. 15, 1926.
Clemson shot an incredible 84.6 percent from three-point range in the Tigers' 81-72 win over the Tar Heels at Littlejohn Coliseum on Jan. 31. But what a difference a month and a change of venue can make. As a team, the Tar Heels were 11-of-23 from beyond the arc for 47 percent.
The Tar Heels were out-rebounded 34-29, but matched Clemson on the offensive glass with 13 boards.
Senior writer Andy Britt is in his second year with Inside Carolina. His work has appeared in newspapers across the country such as The Raleigh News & Observer, The Chapel Hill News, The State (Columbia, S.C.), The Seattle Times, The Houston Chronicle and The Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. He can be reached at email@example.com.