By now, opponents of North Carolina should have seen the scouting report on John Henson.
He’s long and he blocks shots.
Yet the entire contest Clemson went into the lane against the 6-foot-10 forward like he was a contestant for the Bob Cousy Award.
“It’s just human nature,” said Henson, who scored 14 points and gathered nine defensive rebounds. “You’ve been playing basketball so long you’re not just going to back down. Rightfully so, you shouldn’t. My length always bothers people, surprises people. It’s something you’ve got to deal with.”
The Clemson big men refused to deal. The Tigers tried the paint early and moved outside once they realized Henson and fellow forward Tyler Zeller would have none of their high-percentage shots.
The duo was especially effective on a day when Clemson shot 34.4 percent from the field. The inability to get the ball in the paint forced the Tigers to pass the ball out of the lane and to the perimeter.
“That helps us a ton,” said Zeller on Henson’s length. “Our guards can pressure a little more and know we’re behind them. I think we did a good job with challenging shots. We were lucky that they weren’t hitting.”
Henson was a point and a rebound shy of a double-double at halftime. He turned away three Clemson attempts as the Tigers shot 27.3 percent from the field in the first half. Clemson finished the game with 16 points in the paint but borrowed some from the eight fast-break points.
Clemson’s starting power forward and center, Devin Booker and Jerai Grant, combined to go 0-for-9 from the field for two points and five rebounds. Zeller and Henson went 9-for-20 with 24 points and 19 rebounds.
In the two contests against North Carolina this season, Grant has shot an underwhelming 1-for-15 with two points.
“We’ve been really fortunate to catch him on two days that he has shot the ball like that,” Williams said of Grant. “John is really long, and he affects some shots that he doesn’t even block. Those guys inside are a big-time obstacle for the other team to get something in the basket.”
Henson finished the game with four blocks, but none bigger than his denial of Grant early in the second half. With the shot clock winding down, Grant seemingly played volleyball with Henson and set up the UNC sophomore with a spike.
Clemson guard Andre Young gathered the loose ball and hoisted a weak layup that was in turn rejected by Zeller. The block party was the second-most demoralizing play for Clemson, trailing only Harrison Barnes’ facial on Milton Jennings.
“We like to make it as difficult as possible in the lane,” Zeller said. “Anytime you can do that, you get a little momentum and I think that helped shift the momentum our way.”
The pair has worked in the paint together for the last two years, but during the summer, Henson and Zeller choose opposite sides in pick-up games.
Zeller described his compatriot as deceptively long and said Henson has turned away “his fair share” of Zeller’s shots in summer ball.
“I go after every shot I can,” Henson said. “Sometimes I should take a charge — I’m working on that. I just try to block all the shots and be that intimidating factor and make them think twice when they’re going to the basket.”
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