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January 21, 2011North Carolina found a way to get it done Tuesday night as they knocked off Clemson for a 55th straight time in Chapel Hill.
The win came largely because of Carolina's solid first half, in which they built an eight-point halftime lead, and then the team's excellent defensive play in holding the Tigers to 35.2 percent shooting for the game.
"From my viewpoint that was a big-time game," said UNC head coach Roy Williams. "You've got to give Clemson credit---(we had) an eight-point lead early and we weren't doing much offensively in the second half."
PERSEVERENCE PAYS OFF
The Tar Heels allowed Clemson to briefly tie the game at one point down the stretch, but Carolina persevered to improve to 3-1 in Atlantic Coast Conference play heading into a weekend off and over a week away from game action before next Wednesday's tilt in Miami.
"When the score got tied at 63-63 I think that was a big 'three' that Harrison made right in front of our bench," said Williams. "(Clemson's Demontez) Stitt goes down and scores, we cut it down to Kendall (Marshall) and he makes two. And then we get a stop."
"And then that tip-in that John Henson was a big basket for us as well, because that made it more than a one-possession game," Williams added.
"People knocked down shots. We were listening to what Coach was telling us. It was getting close (near the end), but people knocked down big shots at the end of the game and just performed well," said Reggie Bullock.
For the Tar Heels, it was all about coming out with more intensity and more of a 'sense of urgency'---which is one of the reasons why point guard Kendall Marshall made his first career start.
"The mindset is that we just have to get out there and play better," said Marshall. "One thing that he (Coach Williams) has really been stressing, the Jets Coach, Rex Ryan, did a press conference, talking about they just have to play better. That's one thing he's been stressing to us."
"If you take away the silly turnovers and the fact that we were zero for our first seven from 'three' (point range) in the second half, it's a hard-fought win and we're as happy as we can possibly be with it," added Williams.
DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENTS CRUCIAL FOR HEELS
Coming off last Sunday night's debacle in Atlanta---where UNC basically let two Georgia Tech players (Iman Shumpert and Glen Rice) beat them---the Tar Heels absolutely needed to improve its defensive awareness and defensive intensity.
"We've got to be more aggressive. We've got to be more into it on the defensive end of the floor," said Williams. I think in the first half (against Clemson) we had 10 points off turnovers, and needless to say that was big for us."
"For us, Dexter (Strickland) and Larry (Drew) really did a nice job defensively," Williams added. "I thought we were much more intense, to say the least. We had so much more emotion, so much more enthusiasm, so much more 'Want To.'"
"We just had to get it going early with our defensive intensity," said Bullock. "That's what Coach always tells us---defense wins games---we just had to get out in the passing lanes and lock up their best players. We just did that tonight and played well."
Although Larry Drew II was supplanted from the starting lineup, his defensive play was a big reason why the Tar Heels came out on top over Clemson.
Drew held Clemson's best shooter, Demontez Stitt, to a three-for-15 shooting performance, while also stifling the Tigers' ability to dribble penetrate.
Drew credits his solid defensive play this season to the work he put in as a freshman against one of Carolina's all-time great point guards.
"I owe that (my defense) just to going against Ty (Lawson) every day in practice, I honestly feel," Drew said.
"In high school I wasn't known to be this big defensive stopper or anything like that until I got here (at UNC) and then I realized going against Ty every day in practice really helped my defense, and I felt like if I can guard Ty I can guard anybody," he added.
For Drew, the key going forward is to stay focused and remain dedicated to his biggest strength---defense.
That's arguably the biggest key to his making vital contributions for the Tar Heels as the season progresses.
"Just play my game. Just don't think about too much and just go out there and play my game," Drew said.
John Henson was also a key defensive presence against the Tigers, producing five blocked shots and eight rebounds while holding Clemson's top post player, Jerai Grant, to a dreadful one-of-12 shooting performance and only two points.
"John is really long, and it's hard to simulate in practice how long John is," Williams said.
ROY GOES OFF (AGAIN)
In his postgame press conference, Coach Williams once again took the opportunity to get on his soapbox and complain about his weekly radio show---even though none of the reporters asked him a question about it.
It's common knowledge to UNC insiders and many fans that Williams despises his in-season radio show obligations, and on Tuesday he took his distaste to another level as he chided UNC fans for calling him and questioning his tactics.
"I'm proud of those kids. Everybody talked about how poorly they played at Georgia Tech," he said. "My Radio Show (Monday night) stunk."
"Everybody was talking about being Carolina fans for nine million years and how badly (we played). I don't give a damn how long you've been Carolina fans. Those are kids in the locker room, and they played their buns off tonight."
Williams reminisced about a loss the Tar Heels took during his early years as a UNC assistant more than 30 years ago, and then provided some of those Carolina callers incentive to think twice before calling in next time.
Whether that's the right or wrong thing for Williams to do is a matter of debate.
But once again the Hall of Fame coach proved that he's willing to take his public opportunity after a press conference to go off on anybody that has the gall to criticize him or his team.
"I can remember going down to Clemson and we got beat 93-76 and I thought the world was going to end---that was 1979-1980. I'll never forget that. We didn't have everybody calling up on the show talking about my team," Williams said.
"These are 18, 19, 20-year olds. I thought I showed great restraint last night. Don't call me next week and say how good we are. Just keep your damn phone calls to yourself."