CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) North Carolina’s offensive efficiency and depth have become such a reliable strength that the No. 7 Tar Heels can handle a quiet night from one of their top players and keep right on scoring.
Marcus Paige scored 18 points to help UNC beat Clemson 80-69 on Wednesday night in its Atlantic Coast Conference opener, extending the Tigers’ long run of futility in Chapel Hill.
Joel Berry II added 16 points for the Tar Heels (12-2, 1-0 ACC), who led 37-30 at halftime and by 16 in the second half before turning away the Tigers’ last best push.
North Carolina improved to 58-0 all-time against Clemson (7-6, 0-1) at home, an NCAA record for most consecutive home wins against one opponent. And this marked the 26th time in 28 meetings that the Tar Heels extended that streak with a double-digit margin of victory.
The preseason ACC favorite Tar Heels shot 50 percent and put five players in double figures. And that came despite leading scorer Brice Johnson struggling and battling foul trouble.
“I think it’s getting the shot we all want,” said sophomore Theo Pinson, who had 13 points on 5-for-5 shooting. “And everybody has confidence in each other, that we can knock down shots. Everybody’s putting in work off the court that everybody (outside) doesn’t see.”
UNC entered the game ranked No. 1 nationally in offensive efficiency according to KenPom.com statistics. The Tar Heels have now shot at least 50 percent in 10 of their 14 games, and coach Roy Williams sees room for growth.
“I think we have some good parts,” Williams said. “We haven’t shot the ball well. … When we start shooting the ball and still get the offensive rebounds, we can be really good offensively.”
The Tar Heels got huge lifts from Pinson and Isaiah Hicks. Hicks finished with 14 points and six rebounds while seeing time as the big man in a small lineup, while Pinson made all three of his 3-point tries to go with six rebounds of his own.
Clemson got consecutive 3-pointers from Gabe DeVoe to cut the deficit to 63-57 with 7:17 left, but the Tar Heels responded with six straight scoring possessions that included Pinson’s 3 and Hicks’ tough shot in the lane over Sidy Djitte.
“There’s just so many of them coming at you that it’s hard to stop them,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “There’s so many weapons. There’s going to be two or three playing well most nights because there’s six or seven of them that can get 18 points.”
Clemson: The Tigers shot 40 percent for the game, though they hovered around 50 percent for much of the second half. … Jordan Roper scored 13. … Clemson made 20 of 26 free throws.
UNC: Johnson finished with three points on 1-for-8 shooting. … Junior forward Kennedy Meeks missed his fifth straight game due to a bone bruise in his left knee. It’s unclear exactly when he will return. … UNC took a 38-29 rebounding advantage and scored 19 points off turnovers.
Jaron Blossomgame scored 15 points to lead the Tigers, while Avry Holmes and DeVoe combined to knock down five 3s. Clemson had five players in double figures.
Paige said UNC’s perfect record against Clemson in Chapel Hill came up before the game – between the players, anyway.
“Me and Brice and some of the older guys know about it,” he said. “We were telling the younger guys like, `Yo, it’s can’t be us. … We’re not coming back in the locker room being the only ones that have given up a game to Clemson here.”
Clemson hosts Florida State on Saturday.
UNC hosts Georgia Tech on Saturday.