The Tar Heels entered Tuesday night’s game allowing opponents to make 10.2 3-pointers a game, the worst mark in school history. Almost certainly aware of this fact, the Tigers tested UNC’s perimeter defense early and often — and it yielded results.
By the first media timeout of the night, Clemson had shot six 3-pointers and made four of them. By the second one, the Tigers were up to seven made threes on 11 attempts and held a 21-12 lead. Clemson ended up making seven 3-pointers, for a total of 21 points, before it hit a single free throw or two-point shot.
On the other side, UNC played Berry for 19 out of a possible 20 first-half minutes. Earlier Tuesday morning, the team announced that first-year guard Jalek Felton had been suspended from the University. Sophomore Seventh Woods remains out indefinitely with a right-foot injury.
And Theo Pinson, who Williams planned to use as a backup point guard, took a hard fall under his own basket just a few minutes into the game. He was diagnosed with a right shoulder sprain and didn’t return.
With almost no chances to play off the ball, Berry shot 3-8 in the first half as North Carolina entered the break trailing, 44-28. UNC was 10-34 from the field, 4-14 on threes and had seven turnovers.
There was one bright spot in the first 20 minutes, though — graduate transfer Cameron Johnson. Although Williams admitted Monday night during his radio show he had “no idea who is going to start against Clemson,” he kept the 6-foot-8 Johnson in the lineup instead of another big man.
Johnson had 12 points in the first half, including two 3-pointers and the team’s only four free throw attempts (he made all of them). And when he and North Carolina began the second half, something was different.
Why? Junior guard Kenny Williams got into his teammates in the locker room, pleading for more energy. But, perhaps more importantly, Berry’s second half seemed to reflect the conversation with his coach.
“While I’ll have to take on more of the point guard duties,” he said, “I do have teammates that I believe in.”
With the offense running through Johnson and a more focused, calm Berry, the Tar Heels chipped away at their deficit. At one point, UNC went on a 12-1 run while Clemson missed eight straight field goals.
It wasn’t enough. Clemson let its lead dwindle, but it never trailed in the second half. The closest North Carolina got was at the 2:05 mark, when a Berry jumper tied the game at 74-74.
Clemson promptly hit a 3-pointer on the next possession, forced Johnson into a tough fadeaway and iced the game with an easy layup off dribble-drive penetration. Berry and Johnson’s heroics — 39 combined second-half points and a career-high 32 for Johnson in the game — were all but wasted.
UNC is now on its first three-game losing streak since 2014 and 5-5 in the ACC. In their last three games, the Tar Heels have conceded 12, 15 and 15 3-pointers to their opponents, who are shooting them at a 46-percent rate. Is there a remedy?
“I got no answers, guys,” Roy Williams said after the game. “I’ve never emphasized something as much in my entire life.”
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