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Unranked Clemson stuns No. 3 UNC men's basketball at home, 80-76, in second-ever road win over Tar Heels

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UNC junior forward Harrison Ingram (55) drives towards the basket in the Dean E. Smith Center on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024 against Clemson University.

In its first home loss of the season, the No. 3 North Carolina men's basketball team (18-5, 10-2) was bested by the Clemson Tigers (15-7, 5-6 ACC), 80-76, Tuesday night at the Dean E. Smith Center.

The Tar Heel offense was led by graduate center Armando Bacot who tallied 24 points — two shy of a season high — and 13 rebounds. Senior guard RJ Davis and junior wing Harrison Ingram were also in double digits with 22 and 11 points, respectively. 

It was all Tiger tempo in the first few minutes. Despite the Tar Heels' beatdown of rival No. 9 Duke a few days prior, UNC came out sluggish and was only able to produce two points in the first four minutes. The Tigers put their foot on the gas right out of the gate with shooters PJ Hall and Joseph Girard III both knocking down shots.

“I told them in the huddle at the first timeout at the beginning of the game that it's just not about X's and O's,” head coach Hubert Davis said. “There's nothing from a basketball standpoint we can talk about until the energy and the effort and enthusiasm rises, and if that would rise and things would change and then we can start talking about basketball.”

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UNC head coach Hubert Davis shakes hands in the Dean E. Smith Center on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024 following the game against Clemson University. UNC lost 80-76.

Clemson kept a degree of separation while the Tar Heels struggled defensively — a stark contrast to their previous games allowing opponents just under 70 points per contest. Meanwhile, Girard and Hall peppered threes and fadeaways into the basket. UNC was abysmal from beyond the arc, sitting at 1-9 with just over eight minutes left in the first half. The first three of the game came from graduate guard Paxson Wojcik. 

Much like the Blue Devils' defense scheme, the Clemson defense zeroed in early on Tar Heel leading scorer RJ Davis, keeping him from scoring a basket until 13 minutes into the contest.  The senior guard – who’s averaging 21.3 points per game – was held at a standstill, scoring the Tar Heels’ second three of the game late in the first period.

 "I feel like it's weird that we weren't able to master energy today,” Ingram said. 

With four minutes remaining, Clemson held onto a 14-point lead with its 2-3 zone defense confounding UNC and contributing to their offensive woes. The Tar Heels began to show a thread of offensive life in the final minute before the half with 3-pointers from RJ Davis and junior Harrison Ingram. 

The Tar Heels were down 43-34 to end the half. The nine-point deficit is the largest UNC has allowed at home all season and Clemson’s halftime lead is only the second time in the last 25 years they’ve entered the locker room in the Smith Center with the upper hand. 

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The UNC basketball team huddles in the Dean E. Smith Center on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024 during the game against Clemson University. UNC lost 80-76.

“We dug ourselves in a hole the first half,” RJ Davis said. “We tried to try to get ourselves out of it the second half but by now it was too late. And I think this is a game that we can definitely learn from just from moving forward.”

Upon returning to the court, the Tar Heels were able to make it a one-possession game, the smallest deficit all game, on a 10-3 UNC scoring run, which began with Ingram from deep, an RJ Davis step-back three and a Ryan jumper off an Ingram steal. 

For most of the second period, UNC continued to methodically trail behind Clemson who racked up foul after foul giving the Tar Heels a chance to pull closer. The offensive volume cranked up for UNC with just under four left in the game when Ingram — who exited earlier in the period with a lower-body injury — returned to the court and knocked down a three to tie the game at 70. It was the closest time since 2-2 that the Tar Heels have been close to leading the game.

Girard kept the Tiger ever in front of the Tar Heels with a crucial late three, giving Clemson a five-point lead. The Tar Heels added insult to injury, committing four fouls in the last four minutes of the game that Clemson was able to capitalize on.

“At the end of the day, we didn't get the win and – I just – I'm sad,” Ingram said. “I don't like losing I'm mad. I hate losing, especially on our home floor.”

@gracegnugent

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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