Despite the Clemson Tigers' loss of Tanner Smith and his 8.9 points per game, it is doubtful that he would have made any difference. In the witches brew created during every North Carolina basketball home game, Clemson faces nothing but toil and trouble. The Heels reign supreme at home. Always. Does the sun rise in the morning and set in the evening? Does a bear...? Well, you know what I mean if you follow either team.
The final score was 75-65, with the Tigers on the short end once again. 55 and counting.
Yes, the Tar Heels have now won 55 straight basketball games in Chapel Hill against Clemson. They are without a home loss in that rivalry. No loss—ever—at home. Since the time the teams started playing each other, North Carolina has never lost a home game to Clemson.
Incredibly, there are other streaks close to this one.
In 2003, Brown ended their then record streak of road losses to Princeton at 52. At the time, Clemson was toiling with 48 losses and no one believed that streak could last much longer. Yet it still goes on.
Even the Brown streak did not involve their complete failure ever to win an away game at Princeton. But this one does. None appear to have involved complete futility at another team's home court, or for that matter, home anything. To never have won a game on another team's surface has to require magic of some kind. Some weird voodoo of unimaginable proportions. Did the Heels visit the witch doctor? Did the witch doctor give them some potion? Is this the devil at work? Or just pixie dust year after year?
The Heels seem to be able to throw their pixie dust into the Tigers' eyes as Clemson fumbles and flops year after year. In every instance, the teams fight tooth and nail, in part no doubt because of the Streak. Most of the recent games against Clemson at home have been close. Indeed, North Carolina won in double overtime in 2008 after Clemson missed a layup at the end of regulation.
To say the NCAA record streak made no difference this year is to ignore reality.
This year, there was little confidence among the Tar Heels faithful that the Streak would continue. Was the team as down as much as the fans? Would Roy Williams, the Merlin who took a group of kids handed to him when he joined UNC and made them national champions, be able to come back from one of the worst coaching performances on record and make this team look like one that could compete in the ACC?
The first half of this contest had the Tigers stuck once again in the tar, raising hope that the Streak would continue. Kendall Marshall, no longer the Sorcerer's Apprentice, had finally assumed his new role as Sorcerer from the opening tip-off. And Reggie Bullock became the main offensive threat, scoring 16 in the first half.
Yet, this one remained in doubt until very end despite the outstanding first half. In fact, while there were only four turnovers and the Heels shot over 50 percent, leaving them with their first lead at the break in four ACC contests, Clemson still trailed by only eight points at halftime.
Tyler Zeller and John Henson made a much bigger difference inside in this game than they did at Georgia Tech. And Reggie Bullock and Harrison Barnes became the key offensive threats expected of them.
When Carolina pulled to an eight-point game at half-time just four points shy of 50, Carolina fans had hopes the team would reach the magical 100-point threshold for only the third time this season. That never materialized, as both teams clamped down in the second half.
But it was the often-maligned defense that came through in the second half, holding the Tigers scoreless minute after minute as the clock wound down. For nearly eight minutes, the Tar Heels held the Tigers to a single field goal.
While Roy Williams was still a bit stern and somber, with an occasional shout and regular frowns for the Tar Heels' play, the team seemed to play better and be far better coached. All this was done without Leslie McDonald, who Williams had planned to start with Marshall. A back injury sidelined him for the game.
The Carolina ship had been last seen rudderless, adrift on turbulent Georgia Tech seas. Its steerage appeared beyond repair.
Yet after a very brief stay in dry dock, the Tar Heels appeared to be working very well indeed. With guns blazing in the first half and brute strength in the second half, Carolina's ship appeared fully righted and ready to compete.
North Carolina will meet the Miami Hurricanes after another full week in dry dock. It now appears that this week will make the Tar Heels more seaworthy for the rest of the ACC regular season campaign. What we do know is that when it returns to action at Miami, it will have left the ugly Georgia Tech game far behind.
For now, we can say that Captain Williams appears to be much improved in his personnel changes and game time approach. Clearly, Carolina's ACC season is not lost.
At 3-1, UNC is back at the top of the ACC. With four more ACC games before the game at Duke, both teams could face each other with only one loss. A far cry from where the Tar Heels would have been if Clemson had ended their historic streak at Chapel Hill.