Story by Justin Mathis
A winless streak that dates back to January 15, 1926 was wiped away on Saturday afternoon inside the Dean Smith Center, as the Clemson Tigers edged the North Carolina Tar Heels 79-76 in overtime. The win marks the first win for the Clemson men’s basketball program in 60 attempts.
It started with a guarantee.
At the ACC Media Day held prior to the start of the season, Clemson guard John Newman III said that he felt like this year’s Tigers basketball team could be the ones to get rid the 0-for-59 winless streak.
“I think we have a great group of guys,” Newman said. “(We have) a great mix of young and old guys. A lot of guys can do different things, so I was just confident in our players. As a competitor, being down 11 with three or five minutes left, it never crosses my mind that we’re going to lose. We just kept playing… and it showed.”
With 5:25 left in regulation, Clemson trailed North Carolina by 11 points after Brandon Robinson drained a three pointer. A triple from Newman III ignited a 12-2 run for the Tigers, which was capped off by an Aamir Simms three pointer in order to force the extra frame.
“It’s probably not as big of a mountain down in Clemson as some people think it is,” Clemson head coach Brad Brownell stated. “We’re certainly glad to have it past us and not be asked about it anymore so we can move on to other things that we need to accomplish in our program. It’s nice that for former players and fan that we can put (the streak in Chapel Hill) to bed. This was a great road win. Road wins in this league are hard (to come by). To come back the way we did to do it just makes you really proud as a coach of your players.”
Newman III broke the seal in overtime with a layup seven seconds into the period, giving Clemson their first lead of the game at 72-70. With 36 seconds to go, UNC forward Armando Bacot knocked down a jumper in the paint, cutting the Tigers’ lead to 77-76.
“Coach (Brownell) told us going into my freshman year that (North Carolina) had the pressure on them,” Simms recalled. “They are the ones who have ‘the streak’ and have to keep up with it. It’s unbelievable – a lot of (Clemson) teams have come in here and unfortunately, we’ve failed to (win). For us to come in here and show the world that we can get this done is unbelievable. It’s big for our team and big for our school.”
But on the ensuing possession, a driving layup by Simms with 18 seconds left gave Clemson a three point cushion, which proved to be enough. A pair of three point attempts by the Tar Heels with five seconds to go went unanswered as the final horn sounded.
Clemson’s win not only marked the end of the streak in Chapel Hill, it was Brownell’s 177th win at Clemson, tying him with Cliff Ellis for the most in school history.
“That loss is my fault,” North Carolina head coach Roy Williams lamented. “There’s no question, no doubt in my mind… I’ve had some great moments as a coach and right now, I’d say that this is the lowest one because losing this game was my fault. I told them that if I die tomorrow or if I die 20 years from now, that’ll be the biggest regret in 32 years as a coach. These kids really need to win and their coach let them down today.”