CLEMSON, S.C. – Both teams struggled to play anything resembling basketball for the first 37 minutes of North Carolina’s 64-62 win against Clemson.
But then UNC freshmen produced two flashes of physical prowess that helped propel the Tar Heels to a victory.
With just more than three minutes left, Harrison Barnes muscled a dunk through the hoop off a spin move that left Milton Jennings sprawled on the ground and Clemson’s fans aghast.
Two possessions later, Kendall Marshall swiped the ball out of Demontez Stitt’s grasp and took the ball the other way for a layup to increase the lead.
“It was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing,” Barnes said of his dunk. “I got high enough that I could, and I just dunked it.”
Barnes did not plan to join former Tar Heel Jerry Stackhouse, who was in attendance on Saturday, in the pantheon of most memorable UNC dunks — it just happened.
“I was more reacting to the way the dude fell,” Marshall said. “Harrison’s a strong kid, and to see him go up like that and keep elevating on a dunk like that. That was a Blake Griffin-type dunk.”
Barnes’ dunk launched a tranquilizer dart into the neck of the Clemson faithful. The crowd’s pointed silence reverberated through Littlejohn Coliseum.
“I saw Harrison do that in the summer, I had never seen him do that in the game,” forward John Henson said. “I think that’s a top-10-play type thing. I can’t wait to see it on film.”
After Marshall’s steal, the freshman point guard showed experience beyond his years, as he pushed the ball despite appearing to go 1-on-2.
He outraced one Tiger and finished the layup over the other to widen the lead to four points.
“Easy baskets are hard to come by tonight. They’re a great defensive team, especially at home, so I wanted to take advantage of the break,” Marshall said.
The game as a whole was not pretty, as both teams combined to shoot 36 percent from the field.
Some of the offensive futility could be attributed to a lack of movement, but both defenses should get credit for shutting down each offense’s strength.
“We have always said we want to win in the 90s, but we got to be able to win in the 60s,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “We work on it all the time. We don’t work on playing ugly, but we work on halfcourt offense, on guarding people.”
Forgotten in the highlights was Marshall’s shooting from the free throw line. Had he not gone 10-for-11 from the charity stripe — including 7-of-8 in the final minute — the game could have easily gone Clemson’s way.
Instead, Marshall’s steady free throw shooting caused the Tigers’ late string of 3-pointers to be little more than desperation shots.
“We kept going to the free throw line and killing ourselves by only making one shot, but Kendall went 10-for-11,” Williams said. “That was huge for us. Needless to say, we feel very fortunate to get the heck out of here with a win.”
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