Back to back titles for the Heels and their 17th overall. UNC will be #1 in the East Regional heading into the NCAA Tournament.
So this game did not have a last second shot to win, did not have some wild free throw/foul discrepancy and did not have a furious UNC rally to erase a double digit deficit down the stretch. In other words, all those people who whined that the Heels should have lost two games versus Clemson can stuff it. UNC beat Clemson for a third time and did it because they were the better team on the floor and that is saying a lot because Clemson is pretty doggone good in their own right. I will be shocked if they do not make at least the Sweet Sixteen.
On to the game and let me say, “Welcome back Ty Lawson!”
It is interesting to watch Lawson move slowly through the process of getting back to normal. I had reached a point where I was not sure he would make it back to full speed this season but today those fears were allayed to some extent with Lawson doing some of the things he did before the injury. I also wonder what was said to him at halftime since he was fairly quiet in the first half but was far more aggressive after the break. Lawson ended up with 12 points, eight assists and four turnovers which marks his best game running the point since he returned to playing. Also, Lawson played 28 minutes showing his durability is hopefully returning.
The interesting aspect of this game is how UNC was getting their offense. Clemson did as good a job as they did in the first game preventing Tyler Hansbrough from having a huge game. The interior defense was very good in limiting his looks and covering him when he had the ball. Despite all that he ended up with 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as UNC controlled the boards with a +12 in rebounding. UNC also got balanced scoring from Danny Green with 12 and Marcus Ginyard mainly because the transition offense was working so well. Clemson was content to press UNC and it did create 20 turnovers but it also led to several layups for the Heels as they attacked getting the ball past the Tiger press. In many ways the transition game is also part of the reason why Hansbrough was less of a factor and why you saw more points from Green and Ginyard.
However, the Tiger tamer in this game was Wayne Ellington who did not go for 36 again but put in 24 hitting big shot after big shot. Ellington averaged 29.3 ppg against Clemson in three matchups this season and was also one of the streaking players down the court for layups after UNC broke the Clemson press. And on the Green/Ellington watch it was a total of 36 from the duo which more than compensated from a less productive day for Tyler Hansbrough.
Let’s not forget what happened on the defensive end. Despite the 81 points, Clemson only shot 42% from the floor and 34% from three point range. UNC forced 16 Clemson turnovers on nine steals. It was a good defensive effort in shutting down an offensive unit with plenty of weapons and favorable matchups at some sports on the floor. In my opinion this team is playing defense close to a level they need to be to challenge for a national title. They are close and I am thinking it will not take much raise the defensive intensity to national title caliber.
UNC has now won 11 straight game since the first loss to Duke and capped off a wild six weeks since Lawson was injured winning an ACC Championship. It is interesting to note the amount of hand wringing we as fans have done all season from worrying about the outside shooting to the defense to if the Heels could win with Quentin Thomas to if they could win if Lawson came back and Thomas went back to the bench and so on. And this is season is nowhere close to being over but for all the worrying done UNC stands at 32-2 and champions of the ACC for the 17th time.
Now the real work begins.