The way I see it, Clemson is lucky to be only 0-56 in men’s basketball games played in Chapel Hill.
After all, they began playing back in 1926, which is 88 freakin’ years ago. So shouldn’t the Heels be something like 88 and zip against the Tigers?
There are reasons for the missing 32 years. After the first game, a 50-20 flogging by the Tar Heels in the old Tin Can, the teams took eight years off (presumably so Clemson could find some students who could actually play basketball).
They resumed in 1934, skipped 1937 and did not play between 1943 and 1952, when both schools were in the old Southern Conference which had so many members at one point that everyone couldn’t play everyone every year. The Tar Heels and Tigers missed another eight straight seasons on the hardwood.
Between 1957 and 1973 there was something called the North-South Doubleheader at the first Charlotte Coliseum on Independence Drive. Carolina and N.C. State played Clemson and South Carolina, swapping Friday night opponents on Saturday night.
They were ACC games, and they counted as a home game for each team every other year, so there went eight more trips to the Southern Part of Heaven. For the record, UNC went 14-2 against Clemson in the old North-South event. Carolina played two other “home games” against Clemson in Greensboro. Not sure why.
And when the ACC began expanding and came up with its current cockamamie schedule, there were years the teams played only once, either here or there, in the regular season. So the Tigers missed several golden opportunities to end their 0-fer on the Hill. They did not come north in 2010, UNC’s one NIT season under Roy Williams (unless the current struggle ends up there, too) and did not make it up here last year, when the Tar Heels stood at 6-5 in the ACC before “going small” and finishing 12-6.
When Clemson did play in Chapel Hill, there were a few close calls for the Tigers. The two games in 1974 and ’75, when Coach Tates Locke led the Tigers to winning records and eventually onto NCAA probation, were as hotly contested as any in the series. The Tar Heels held on to win 61-60 in Bobby Jones’ senior season, and a year later Carolina stormed back behind freshman Phil Ford to pull out a 74-72 thriller. You may remember the names Skip Wise and Wayne “Tree” Rollins, who were stars on those very talented (if purchased) Tiger teams.
Carolina won at home by three points in 1980 and, strangely, by only five in 1982, when Dean Smith won his first national championship two months later.
Twice, Clemson came to Chapel Hill ranked higher than the home team. The first time was the 1980 game, but the most memorable was in 1997 when the Tigers were coached by Rick Barnes and arrived as the No. 2 team in the country (UNC, which had started its ACC season 1-4, was ranked 19th).
Clemson had a 5-9 All-ACC guard name Terrell McIntyre, and Smith used 6-5 Vince Carter to guard him and hinder his view of the various passing lanes. Carolina won the ugly defensive battle, 61-48, and by the rematch at then-12th-ranked Clemson the Heels were in the midst of a 16-game win streak and had moved up to No. 8.
Without a doubt the strangest Clemson game in Chapel Hill came the following season, which was Bill Guthridge’s first as head coach and Barnes’ last at Clemson before going to Texas. Already a villainous figure to UNC fans from his clashes with Smith over rough play and both coaches yelling at opposing players, Barnes unleashed his most aggressive defense on the Tar Heels.
Clemson was whistled for 41 fouls (Guthridge later said the refs missed a bunch more) and sent the Heels to the free throw line 59 times. Six Tigers fouled out, leaving Barnes with nobody to put in the game for the last minute. He turned to the taunting crowd behind his bench and began taking off his suit jacket, like he was reporting to the scorer’s table. The 88-79 Carolina win ended with four Clemson players on the court.
It was the last image of Barnes as Clemson’s coach, and since then the closest the Tigers have come to winning in Chapel Hill was blowing a late lead in a double-overtime defeat in 2008. Heck, they couldn’t even win here during Matt Doherty’s 8-20 season. Their next, and perhaps best, shot comes Sunday night. Will it be 56-1 or 57 and counting?