A streak that began when Calvin Coolidge was president and has survived four different home court locations continued Tuesday night, as the No. 15 North Carolina men’s basketball team won its 59th straight home game over No. 20 Clemson.
“The only thing that Coach really said to us was that it was going to end sometime,” junior guard Kenny Williams said, “but let’s just hold it off another year.”
The 87-79 win didn’t come without its fair share of drama, though. Among it: a new career high at North Carolina for Cameron Johnson, 16 consecutive makes from the Tigers and some stitches — five, to be exact.
As Roy Williams said while sitting down in the Smith Center’s media room: “That’s ACC basketball.”
UNC (15-4, 4-2 ACC) came out firing, assisting on 10 of its first 11 shots and going on an 18-3 run early in the first half. The opening minutes were energetic ones. Theo Pinson blocked two jump shots much to the delight of his teammates. Brandon Robinson tapped out a rebound then made a 3-pointer seconds later.
The game slowed down soon after though, and the Tar Heels went from the 7:37 to 1:32 mark without a single made field goal. Clemson guard and Shelby, N.C., native Gabe DeVoe kept his team hanging around, as did skilled forward Elijah Thomas.
Perhaps the most important moment of the first half was the result of some friendly fire. As Kenny Williams jumped for a defensive rebound, his elbow grazed the face of teammate and roommate Luke Maye. Maye went to the ground and stayed there, medical staff huddling around him as blood streamed from the right side of his face.
He got up eventually, covering his face with a white Gatorade towel that was becoming increasingly red as he jogged to the locker room.
“Doug (Halverson), our trainer and physician, checked me for a concussion and I felt great,” Maye said. “No headaches.”
With Maye absent from the lineup, the Tar Heels outscored the Tigers 6-0 over the last 1:59 in the first half and entered the locker room with a 38-23 lead. The junior asserted himself offensively in the second half, though, shooting 3-for-4 from the field with three assists and two rebounds, all while sporting five blue stitches near the right side of his nose.
After a relatively quiet first half, Johnson, a graduate transfer, knocked down three 3-pointers and a free throw to score the first ten points of the second half for North Carolina. He continued the hot streak into the rest of the game. He finished with a final line of 21 points and four rebounds.
“I just figured you know, I was kinda due for a couple threes,” Johnson said. “I was tired of going one-for-five or something like that.”
His performance was needed, as the Tigers hit an unbelievable 15 straight shots in the second half. After shooting 32 percent from the field before the break, Clemson ended the game shooting 48 percent.
“They got hot,” Kenny Williams said. “A lot of it was open shots. Once they saw a couple go in, their confidence just went up. They started to make more. That was on us.”
Senior Theo Pinson notched 12 points on the game, hitting six straight free throws in the final two minutes of the matchup to secure the streak for another year. The win was the 831st of Roy Williams’ career, which moved him into sole possession of seventh place on the all-time wins list among Division I coaches.
“Anything as historic as a streak like that is pretty impressive,” Johnson said. “You don’t want to be the ones to ruin it.”
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