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'We just got too satisfied': Complacency leads No. 3 UNC men's basketball's fall to Clemson

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UNC senior guard RJ Davis (4) defends the basket in the Dean E. Smith Center on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024 against Clemson University. UNC lost 80-76.

Head coach Hubert Davis tried to warn his team before the game. It doesn't matter who UNC plays — the level of preparation should always be the same.

“We were able to be successful on Saturday, and we had a game here on Tuesday,” Davis said, shrugging his shoulders in visible frustration. “It’s just a game in the regular season, and we needed to move forward and continue to grow and continue to get better — that was my message.”

The Tar Heels ignored his warning on Tuesday as No. 3 UNC lost 80-76 to unranked Clemson. North Carolina came out flat and was unable to overcome its largest halftime deficit of the season. The team’s complacency and lack of energy were evident all night, leading to UNC’s first home loss of the year.

Just over three minutes into the game, UNC’s slow start forced Davis to call a timeout. Clemson center PJ Hall found himself open behind the arc and sunk a triple to complete a 13-0 run. The game had not yet reached the first media timeout, and the Tar Heels already found themselves down 15-2.

“They were playing harder than us — that’s obvious,” Davis said. “I don’t know what a timeout, telling them we need to play harder, does. But we regrouped and understood that we needed to pick up our energy and effort.”

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UNC head coach Hubert Davis watches his team play in the Dean E. Smith Center on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024 against Clemson University. UNC lost 80-76.

The players could that tell the energy was off — even before the opening tipoff.

Graduate center Armando Bacot said three to four players came out late to warmups, and both junior forward Harrison Ingram and senior guard RJ Davis acknowledged that the energy was not at its typical level.

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UNC junior forward Harrison Ingram (55) defends the basket during the men's basketball game against Clemson at the Dean E. Smith Center on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024. UNC fell to Clemson 76-80.

The two days of practice leading up to Tuesday weren't up to standard either. On Monday, RJ Davis said he was forced to call a timeout because he could sense that something was off and he wanted to rally the team.

“There was no energy in the gym and I just felt like we just got too satisfied,” RJ Davis said. 

Ingram echoed this, saying it seemed as though the Tar Heels were content with their top-10 rivalry victory on Saturday.

“We were a little satisfied after our Duke win,” Ingram said. “And I feel like that showed on the court today.”

While Clemson’s lead stretched to as much as 16 in the first half of Tuesday’s game, the Tar Heels proved why they were a top-5 team in the country. Despite the low energy and off-shooting night, which amounted to their second-lowest shooting percentage of the season, the Tar Heels remained within striking distance for the majority of the second half.

After limping off the court and into the locker room with what he described as lower body cramps in both legs, Ingram checked back into the game with 4:35 to go.

Just 18 seconds later, Ingram splashed home a corner three to tie the game at 70, the game's first tie since 2-2. 

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UNC junior forward Harrison Ingram (55) celebrates after making a three-pointer during the men’s basketball game against Clemson at the Dean E. Smith Center on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024. UNC fell to Clemson 76-80.

It looked like the Tar Heels were going to find a way to pull out a victory despite their slow start, but UNC’s complacency came back to bite them.

“I definitely do think that after we tied it up, we thought it was going to be easy,” Ingram said. “And we thought it was going to be given to us.”

But the win was not given to the Tar Heels, as the Tigers scored seven straight points out of the under-4 media timeout and secured a much-needed road victory.

In a conference like the ACC, RJ Davis said the Tar Heels need to play every game like it's their last. Bacot described this game as a wake-up call, saying there is now a sense of urgency going into their next game against Miami.

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“[The coaches] tried to warn us ever since Sunday,” Bacot said. “They told us this team’s coming in hungry. The way we were playing, we were going to lose. Coach Davis told us that, and it happened.”

@brendan_lunga18

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com