CLEMSON, SC - With the Clemson football team at the center of the national spotlight once again, the basketball team found themselves with their backs against the wall, desperately needing a win. The Tigers dominated Miami on New Year's Eve, leading all but about four minutes, only to lose in overtime. That dropped them to 0-3 in the ACC with NC State coming to town before going on the road to play UNC and then hosting No.2 Duke on a quick turnaround. An 0-6 conference start was an all-too-real possibility for a program that has been better than .500 almost every year for the past 10 years. The Tigers used that desperation and dominated a strong NC State team that had won 6 of 7 coming in. The Tigers led the entire game, never even allowing State to tie. Unlike the Miami game, the Tigers were able to pull away late and put the game away.
It was probably the Tigers' most balanced offensive game of the season, with 5 players scoring in double-digits. When the Tigers were winning early in the season, Tevin Mack was the team's leading scorer with about 16 points per game. His scoring has lagged during the losing streak, but he turned that around against the Pack. After scoring just 3 points in the first half, he added 11 in the second. However, he was just 1-8 from beyond the arc, and that's got to improve. Curran Scott, on the other hand, was 3-4 from long range and matched Mack's 14 points. Freshman guard Al-Amir Dawes had a tremendous game with 16 points and was 9-10 at the free throw line. Simms led the Tigers again with 17 points after his 21-point performance against Miami. He was 8-9 from the free throw line.
The Tigers desperately needed to feel the confidence of a win again heading into Chapel Hill where, thanks to the refs, they have never won. The ultimate irony is that the Tar Heels are as vulnerable as they have ever been and ripe to end the streak, but there will be no Clemson media there to cover it because the game is this Saturday--two days before the National Championship! The Heels are 3-6 in their last 9 games, including a 4-game losing streak that saw them lose at home to Wofford for the second straight year. To be fair, three of those losses were to top-10 teams Gonzaga, UVA and Ohio State on the road. The Heels have also beaten some good teams like Oregon, UCLA and Yale, who the Tigers recently lost to at home, but they lost their most recent game at home to Georgia Tech by 13. So it's a young and wildly inconsistent UNC team the Tigers will be facing on Saturday in Chapel Hill. If they can finally beat the Heels in the Dean Center, it's going to be a wild scene in Littlejohn for No.2 Duke the following Tuesday night--potentially the day after another Clemson Football title!
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