CLEMSON, S.C. — In the hours leading up to No. 12 North Carolina’s first ACC road game against No. 24 Clemson, the Tar Heels’ bus was involved in a car accident on its way to a shootaround at Littlejohn Coliseum.
It wasn’t the only wreck Wednesday night.
UNC’s offense struggled to find its way through the traffic of Clemson’s high pressure defense in the first half, committing 15 turnovers in the game’s opening period.
And that was only the beginning.
For the game, the North Carolina (12-5, 1-1 ACC) committed 26 turnovers in its 83-64 blowout loss to the Tigers (14-3, 2-1). The 26 turnovers tied UNC’s season high.
“We thought we could turn them over because they’ve struggled with that,” Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. “That’s what we do, that’s Clemson basketball.”
Clemson’s collapse defense rattled the Tar Heels from the opening tip. After UNC’s first three possessions, Clemson already had three steals and six points off those turnovers.
Three starters — Larry Drew II, Marcus Ginyard and Deon Thompson — were the main culprits for the Tar Heels, turning the ball over a combined 15 times.
“It’s tough when you turn the ball over almost 30 times,” Ginyard said. “We never really gave ourselves a chance to win.”
The mistakes led to plenty of easy baskets on the other end for Clemson, who turned UNC’s sloppy play into several easy transition dunks and layups.
UNC’s inability to consistently break the pressure also gave the Tigers plenty of energy in half-court sets. After one turnover caused by the defense of Clemson’s Trevor Booker, the forward had an extra bounce in his step as he found his place on the block and demanded the ball down low.
A pass and one solid post move later, Booker added two more points to his total and posed to the thunderous applause from the Clemson crowd.
The 15 first-half turnovers were matched by only three assists, leaving UNC coach Roy Williams far from pleased with the effort from his starters at the break.
And after another sluggish start after intermission, he pulled all five starters out of the game with 18:02 remaining and replaced them with all five of UNC’s freshmen.
While he reinserted them only a few possessions later, the message was clear.
“All the mistakes we made were things that they told us in practice, things that they’ve always shown us what’s the right thing to do and we make the same mistakes over and over,” Will Graves said.
After the game, no one spoke in a somber UNC locker room other than to ask a question or to ask for a towel. Ginyard, a fifth-year senior, best summed up the team’s mood on its offensive performance.
“I’ve never felt like this before.”
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