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February 18, 2012

Defense, rebounding snare Tigers

Extending its unbeaten streak against Clemson in Chapel Hill really did not stand out as the chief accomplishment in the Tar Heels' 74-52 victory against the Tigers on Saturday at the Smith Center.

The eighth-ranked Tar Heels (23-4, 10-2 in the ACC) shone brightly in this game for the consistency of their defense and rebounding, two attributes that have become the foundation for this team.

"It was a typical game against North Carolina," Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. "You make mistakes and they make you pay. We had the game at 47-41, and we turned the ball over five out seven possessions. That was the end of the game."

This was not a typical game for the Tigers (13-13, 5-7) under Brownell. Today marked his 60th game as Clemson's head coach, and this was the most lopsided defeat.

Each team develops a personality and strengths. The 2009 Tar Heels, who won the national title, could play strong defense, but scoring was the strength of that club. There were just too many superb offensive weapons for anyone to outscore it.

As of Saturday, Carolina led the nation in scoring at 83.1 points per game, yet offense is not the trademark of this club. In fact, after each game of late the topic seems to be UNC's struggle to score at times. The situation is actually rather bizarre, something of a Zen riddle.

"We made some shots from the 3-point line, and did some better things offensively," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "We did some things better offensively after they cut it to six."

There is no puzzle about the Tar Heels' defense and rebounding. UNC held Clemson to 37.5 percent from the field and just 18 field goals. Carolina grabbed 39 rebounds to 26 for Clemson, with 11 of UNC's coming on the offensive end.

"It's hard to score against them because of their size and length," Brownell said. "You throw it inside, but you're facing a 7-footer. As a result, they can guard you a little harder on the perimeter and deny more things. That was problematic for us. You just have great length at a lot of positions."

Clemson did not score a field goal in the last 7 minutes and 42 seconds of the game.

Carolina has developed a true team defense. The Tar Heels are playing together, with individuals getting to the spots where they are supposed to be; whereas, early in the year the same players may not have rotated properly or worked in unison.

"I do believe defensively and our work on the backboards is where this team has developed some consistency," Williams said.

Harrison Barnes is evolving into the player he was a year ago during the second half of the ACC season. He is one of the few players at this level who can create his own shot off the dribble -- and make it. That can be invaluable when the shot clock edges closer to expiring.

"I think Harrison is becoming the player everybody made him out to be a year and a half ago," said UNC point guard Kendall Marshall, who had 13 assists and three turnovers. "There are a couple of things he has you can't teach that he has. He's 6-8. He has a great wingspan. He elevates on his jump shot.

"If put a big guy on him, he can blow past him. If you put a guard on him, he can shoot over him. So it's things like that you can't teach. With his skill set, one, two dribbles, use his pump fake and jab step, he's a tough cover."

Senior forward Tyler Zeller had another outstanding game, which is just standard fare for him now. He scored 14 points and had seven rebounds to go with a block and a steal.

John Henson added 13 points and eight rebounds.

Reggie Bullock is starting to get his shooting touch back. He went 4-of-7 from the field, but he made 3 of his 5 3-point attempts.

"Reggie did a great job of moving without the ball, and that made it easy passes for me to make," Marshall said.


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