(Overheard in the UNC huddle with 5.4 seconds left in OT at Clemson)
Roy: Okay, Wayne they are going to be expecting you to take the last shot. We are going to use you as a decoy. Ty you get the ball into Hansbrough off the screen. He will take the last shot.
(Players all turn away, refusing to look at Roy except for Wayne)
Roy: Dadgummit what is it? What’s the matter with you guys? (Looks at Wayne)
Wayne: I’ll make it.
Roy: Okay, Ty dribble to the top of the key and get the ball Wayne just above the wing.
Well maybe it did not go down like that but the results were the same as in Hoosiers with Wayne Ellington playing the role of Jimmy Chitwood and basically being the whole offense in a game where Tyler Hansbrough was effectively defended from even touching the ball, Ty Lawson was turnover prone and the rest of the principals were completely off their games. I cannot say enough about Ellington and the game he played tonight. 36 points on 11-19 shooting and 9-9 from the FT line. He also played some pretty good defense along the way as well. With that last shot he laid to rest the Georgetown game and in my mind, answered any and all critics(myself included) who had doubts he could be the big time offensive threat at shooting guard. Is there any question now that Wayne Ellington can be the kind of player who can take a team on his back and win the game? I think not and this goes down as one of the great single game performances in UNC history.
The overarching perception I have of this team, that has now been completely validated, is they are very capable winning in the toughest of situations. UNC was toast in this game. Clemson had control of the game, a two possession lead and if they had any inkling about shot selection from three point range or how to hit free throws, the Heels would be sitting with one loss right now. However, UNC found a way, got some breaks on one hand and made some plays when it counted on the other. They showed tremendous fortitude in not giving up when Clemson was poised to end it. And while some of the late game execution was a little haphazard in both the end of regulation and for the first eight seconds of the final sequence in OT, UNC had themselves in a position to win the game and Ellington delivered.
As for what went wrong, there was plenty. I think a good portion of the bad stuff is owed to the fact that Clemson is legit. Yes, they are a tad undisciplined in shot selection from beyond the arc and horrible on the FT line but their interior game matches the Heels and without Alex Stepheson possibly surpasses it. They did an excellent defensive job on Hansbrough in both keeping the ball from him and not allowing him to shoot if he got it. This fact alone makes Ellington’s night even bigger because it illustrated that UNC could win without the other cylinders firing. UNC did a poor job on the boards and gave away too much to Clemson on the offensive glass. I am convinced Stepheson’s presence off the bench might have made a difference here since he would have been another huge body capable of playing defense and rebounding in there.
On offense UNC was out of sync with the exception of Ellington and early on Lawson. As the game wore on Lawson looked like he was pressing and lost control quite a bit turning the ball over. In fact everyone was bitten by the turnover bug tonight with UNC committing a ton. Marcus Ginyard has to be happy is such an indispensable defender because he was horrible shooting the ball and making decision on the offensive end. Deon Thompson was good early but got swallowed whole by James Mays or so it seems since he was off the floor for so long. Danny Green had an atypical night for him in terms of points(and fouling out) but not when it came to clutch shots as he hit the three that closed UNC to within one.
In the end, this was a classic ACC road game magnified by the fact both teams were ranked. A win like this is a premium for the Heels who by all rights should have lost and any time you can steal one on the road in this conference it is like Christmas was extended. I wrote before the weekend that UNC was looking for the “Team of Destiny” win which is found in all national title team’s schedules. This could very well be that game even though it did not happen at home. Teams intent upon winning national titles find ways to pull games out and UNC did exactly that tonight. May that bode well for the rest of the season.