Clemson head coach Brad Brownell tinkered with the starting lineup, mixed zone defense with man-to-man, added a dash of ball pressure and the resulting cocktail was a refreshing 63-50 win over North Carolina at Littlejohn Coliseum, Tuesday night.
The Tigers (11-5, 5-5) had to endure moments of stress in the second half as UNC turned up the intensity and Clemson’s shooting touch abandoned them. Clemson had hit on just 2 of 12 shots midway through the second half and found its lead trimmed to four. But on the next possession, Hunter Tyson cut hard off a screen and buried a 3-pointer from the top of the key to stretch the lead back to seven. The clutch basket delighted the home crowd and surely felt doubly sweet for Tyson as he was coming off a scoreless game at Duke. The Tar Heels would never threaten, again.
Tyson led Clemson with 16 points, all in the second half, but it was senior Clyde Trapp that was most responsible for his team’s insurmountable lead. Trapp finished with 14 points and tied his career-high with nine rebounds. Time and again, Trapp answered a UNC run with a bucket, rebound or defensive stop.
The Tigers built a 33-21 halftime lead behind pressure defense, forcing 10 first-half turnovers and 17 for the game. North Carolina couldn’t take full advantage of its size advantage inside as senior Aamir Simms (10 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists) and Tyson consistently stood their ground against 6’11” Day’ron Sharpe and 6’10” Garrison Brooks. Clemson, meanwhile, used a series of back cuts, post-ups and run-outs to outscore the Heels 26-18 in the paint.
In a unique season with limited attendance, the Tigers have still played appreciably better in their home building. Clemson is now 7-1 at Littlejohn Coliseum, only falling to highly-ranked Virginia. They’ll have a chance to add to that win total when they play host to Syracuse, Saturday, at 2 p.m.