But maybe it shouldn't have been.
Sure, the Tar Heels were undefeated in ACC play and the Tigers had dropped eight consecutive games. Recent history, however, shows that Clemson had an ace in the hole.
The Tar Heels entered the game having lost their previous four ACC games in which they had at least a week off beforehand. They had dropped one such game in each of the past four seasons, including an 86-72 shocker against N.C. State as the nation's No. 1 team in 1998.
Sunday's game was a continuation of the trend. But UNC coach Matt Doherty plans to put an end to the Tar Heels' long-layoff blues by eliminating the long layoff.
"I don't want to blame the layoff as an excuse," Doherty said. "But we will try to schedule a game in this gap next year -- that's for sure."
The Tar Heels showed few signs of rust early against the Tigers, knocking down five of their first seven 3-point attempts and taking a 35-30 halftime lead.
But UNC didn't have enough gas in the tank to answer Clemson's final run in the second half.
Guard Joseph Forte was tired down the stretch and missed five of his last six shots.
"At the time, we were glad to have the rest or what have you," Forte said of the layoff. "Now I wish we had kept playing. I felt kind of tired out there. Games are different."
Forte Loses Ground in Scoring Race
In addition to UNC losing the game, Forte lost a chance to take over the ACC scoring lead for the first time.
He entered the game with 487 points in 23 games (21.2 ppg), two fewer than Clemson guard Will Solomon's total in the same number of contests.
Solomon outscored Forte 26 to 16. He has led the league in points per game every day since Dec. 1, 1999.
Morrison Sees Big Minutes
With the Tar Heels struggling against Clemson's triangle-and-two defense, Doherty used freshman Brian Morrison at point guard in the closing minutes.
Morrison was Ronald Curry's backup in the game because Adam Boone was out with a sprained ankle. But Morrison played at the end because he had made two 3-pointers and Curry had struggled.
"I just think that Brian is a very good shooter, and I thought he had a chance to make some shots behind the 3-point line," Doherty said.
Morrison finished with six points and four assists. He had a crucial turnover that the Tigers turned into a layup during their 8-2 run to seal the game.
Who Are These Guys, Anyway?
Solomon put the Tigers in position to win with his hot shooting to open the second half, but his little-known teammates put them over the top.
After Solomon left the game with four fouls at the 12:56 mark, reserve forward Tomas Nagys hit a 3-pointer and made a short jumper off a drive to the basket to put his team ahead 54-45. The trey was the second of Nagys' career.
Fellow sub Jamar McKnight, who scored eight points, bookended Nagys' spurt with two field goals. McKnight has 35 points in ACC games this season, 17 of which have come against UNC.
Hobbs Enjoys Big Win
Clemson freshman forward Chris Hobbs got a little extra enjoyment out of his team's upset win.
Hobbs, who tallied six points and eight rebounds, is from Chapel Hill.
"It's bigger than winning the state championship that we won at East Chapel Hill," Hobbs said. "I feel like I'm on cloud nine."
UNC center Brendan Haywood, on the technical foul he received for hanging on the rim with 3:48 to go:
"It's crunch time, and that's a tough call to make with three minutes left. We let the officials be the officials. I don't like it, but it doesn't matter what I like."
UNC forward Jason Capel, who finished with 16 points and 12 boards, recorded his third double-double in the past four games. ... UNC forward Kris Lang failed to score in 15 minutes on the floor. It's the first time in his career that he has gone scoreless.
The Tar Heels (21-3) dropped to No. 2 in the rankings after the loss. Stanford (23-1) regained the top spot, and Illinois (21-5), Duke (23-3) and Michigan State (20-3) rounded out the top five.
Clemson had lost 19 games in a row against No. 1-ranked teams. The Tigers are now 2-22 all-time against top-ranked foes and 1-10 when playing a top-ranked UNC squad.
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