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.”
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.