For the 58th time in 58 tries, the No. 7 UNC men’s basketball team knocked off the Clemson Tigers in Chapel Hill—winning 80-69 on Wednesday night in a game that opened conference play for both teams.
”We didn’t talk about [the streak] much as a team,” UNC point guard Marcus Paige said after the game.
“But me and Brice [Johnson] and some of the older guys knew about it,” he added. “So we were telling the younger guys like, ‘Yo, it can’t be us. They’re like, 0-57—never won in Chapel Hill. We’re not coming back in this locker room being the only ones that have given up a game to Clemson here.’”
Paige scored 18 points not only to keep the streak alive, but to help move the Tar Heels to 12-2 on the year and 1-0 in the ACC.
The Tigers played a tough, physical game, but fell to 7-6 overall, and 0-1 against conference foes, after coming up short yet again in Chapel Hill.
Despite getting just three points from Johnson—the team’s leading scorer this season—UNC head coach Roy Williams received an outstanding performance from a pair of super substitutes.
“Didn’t get much out of Brice [Johnson] tonight, and he’s been off the charts [recently],” he continued. “I think he started reading his pub and thinking he was All-World—forgot the work part of it. But we got by with Brice having one of the worst games I’ve ever seen him [have.]”
Hicks had 14 points and Pinson had 13, as the two combined to shoot 10-for-11 from the floor—including Pinson’s three-for-three performance from long range, one of which came late in the second half with Clemson within just six points.
It was part of a game-deciding run where the Tar Heels scored on six straight possessions, distancing themselves using a small lineup consisting of Hicks and four perimeter players—a ploy Clemson head coach Brad Brownell was not expecting.
“You don’t see North Carolina downsize very much,” Brownell said. “And they downsized against us.
“When Theo Pinson makes three threes it’s tough,” the visiting coach added. “We gave him a couple in some situations and he knocked ‘em in. Those were big baskets.”
Brownell’s Tigers got 15 points from their leading scorer Jaron Blossomgame, but got into deep foul trouble with big men Landry Nnoko and Sidy Djitte each having to sit out extended minutes.
The Tar Heels also played much better defensively compared to recent outings, as they held Clemson to 39 percent shooting, and to just a 7-for-19 mark from behind the three-point line.
Another rare sight came on the game’s final basket, with Hicks finding Paige on the fast break for what became just the third dunk of the senior’s career. Excited afterwards, the 6-foot guard pulled himself up on the rim for emphasis.
“You know, guys that don’t get a lot of dunks don’t know how to act when they get a dunk,” Paige said. “It’s funny because Brice dunks more than anyone and sometimes it looks like he doesn’t know how to act, or like he’s never dunked the ball before.
“Now I know how it feels,” he continued, laughing.
Although Clemson may not be the ACC’s most talented team, Pinson says this game ought to put fear in the eyes of UNC’s upcoming opponents.
“It’s just a little momentum going into the ACC season, honestly,” Pinson said. “I think it scares a lot of people just seeing what we can do when Brice is struggling and with Kennedy [Meeks] not out [there] and stuff like that.
“So it was a big time [win for us].”
Conference play will continue to come at the Tar Heels quickly, as they’ll have a couple nights off before returning to the court at the Dean Dome on Saturday afternoon to take on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (10-3).
Charlotte — Entering Saturday it had been 35 years since the UNC football team last won an ACC Championship.
That number will now go to 36, as the nation’s number one team–the Clemson Tigers–defeated the No. 10 Tar Heels 45-37 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte behind an incredible effort from their star quarterback, sophomore Deshaun Watson.
Staking his claim for the Heisman Trophy, Watson absolutely annihilated UNC’s defense all game long–to the tune of 420 total yards and five touchdowns. For his efforts, he also took home the game’s MVP award.
Clemson now improves to 13-0 and will be a prime contender for the national championship.
The loss is the Tar Heels’ first since opening week, and second in Bank of America Stadium this year.
At 11-2, head coach Larry Fedora and his team will now have to wait and see where they will be headed this bowl season–with a trip to the College Football Playoff ruled out of the question now.
“Just a hell of a ballgame tonight,” Fedora said. “You know, Clemson was the better team tonight, and they did a heck of a job. Our guys fought all the way to the end and felt like we were in it all the way to the end. And I’m proud of the way we played.”
Watson’s counterpart, Tar Heel senior Marquise Williams, struggled mightily with the Tigers’ pass rush. Pressured consistently throughout the night, Williams completed just 11 of his 33 passes for 224 yards. He threw for three touchdowns, but also threw a crucial interception with his team threatening to re-take the lead in the third quarter.
“It’s tough,”Williams said. “Coming back into my hometown not being able to get a win.
“I’m excited the way we fought today,” he continued. “A lot of people thought we were going to come out here and just lay an egg, but we didn’t. We came out and fought to the end. That’s what I love about this team. So what I didn’t win?”
The running back matchup played out in a similar fashion.
UNC sophomore Elijah Hood rushed for 65 yards on 14 carries, while Clemson’s Wayne Gallman–also a sophomore–picked up 187 on 28 touches, with all but 17 of his yards coming in the second half.
However, UNC was able to put together a late rally after falling behind by three scores midway through the third quarter.
With just over a minute left in the game and trailing by eight points–following a 17-yard touchdown pass from Williams to Ryan Switzer–UNC recovered an onside kick attempt near midfield.
For a moment, it appeared as if there might have been a chance.
The only problem was that the referees determined that one of the Tar Heels was offside–much to Fedora’s dismay.
“I had a chance to look at it,” the coach said after the game. “And they missed it. They were wrong. That’s all I’m going to say about it. They were wrong.”
For a good portion of the first two quarters UNC held the lead, but it simply could not hang on as the game progressed.
The Tigers showed why they have been the class of college football all year long by using their extreme talent and athleticism to take control. From a pure statistical standpoint, the Tar Heels were dominated the entire game, as head coach Dabo Swinney’s team finished with 608 yards of offense, compared with UNC’s 382.
Clemson went into halftime leading just 21-16, needing a 68-yard drive in the final two minutes of the second quarter–capped with a 1-yard touchdown toss from Watson to tight end Jordan Leggett–to pull in front.
Then the sophomore led his team to touchdowns on each of its first two possessions of the second half–one after Williams’ interception and another after UNC failed on its own fake punt attempt.
Up by three scores at that point, the Tigers went into cruise control the rest of the way–much like the Tar Heels have done all year long.
However, that led to three late UNC touchdowns, which put the team in a position–with just over a minute remaining–for the critical onside kick that was wiped away by the late flag.
On the next try, Clemson picked up the ball, and with it the conference championship.
“The fun thing about this group is what they’ve got inside of them,” Fedora said of his Tar Heels. “And they never stopped fighting, and they never stopped believing. The way they were scrambling around on those last two onside kicks, you could tell they believed if we got that ball we were going to win, and they knew that was all we needed to do.
“So their effort was tremendous all night,” he added. “They’ve got a tremendous amount of grit and I’m really proud of the way these seniors led this team this year.”
The regular season is now over for UNC, as the team will now have to wait to find out which bowl game awaits.
It all comes down to this. Back in Charlotte at Bank of America Stadium, the same place where it picked up its first—and only—loss of the season, the No. 10 UNC football team now finds itself playing for the ACC Championship and a chance at the College Football Playoff.
The only obstacle?
The undefeated Clemson Tigers—America’s top ranked team.
Under head coach Larry Fedora, the Tar Heels now have a chance to bring home an ACC Championship for the first time since 1980—when Fedora was a senior in high school and a man named Lawrence Taylor was roaming around UNC’s defensive backfield.
With all that on the line, the coach is nowhere near satisfied just yet.
“When it’s all over with, maybe I can sit back, smoke a cigar, and think back on it,” Fedora said during his weekly press conference. “But for right now, we’re fixing to play the number one team in the country. We don’t have time to kick our shoes off and throw our feet up. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Clemson comes into Saturday at 12-0 behind its charismatic head coach, Dabo Swinney, and its Heisman candidate at quarterback, sophomore Deshaun Watson—the only player in the ACC to throw for more than 3,000 yards and rush for more than 700.
But the Tigers aren’t just an offensive powerhouse.
Their defense ranks seventh in the nation in yards allowed, and is one of eight schools to surrender less than 300 per game.
“This is the best offense we have faced this year, no doubt about it,” Fedora said. “And this is the best defense we’ve faced this year. I mean, this is the best football team we have faced.
“They’re the number one team in the country, and they’ve been that way for how many weeks? Ten weeks. Long time right?”
The Tar Heels will need to find a way to slow Watson down when they are on defense, which is much easier said than done. In Watson’s first career start last year as a true freshman, he torched UNC for 435 yards and six touchdowns.
Senior linebacker Jeff Schoettmer remembers that game vividly, but says he believes his group will be up to the challenge on Saturday.
“They’re definitely an explosive offense, but we’re a new defense as well,” he said. “[Watson] was a freshman [in last year’s game], but he was poised beyond his years. He’s very mature for his age, and he is a great player. That’s why he’s up for the Heisman.
“So we’re gonna have to play a great game on defense to shut him down.”
If that does indeed happen, then the Tar Heels will still need to continue to get the explosive production from their offense that they’ve gotten all season.
Every long touchdown and highlight reel play is another point in the College Football Playoff Committee’s notebook. It may seem silly, but the week one loss in Charlotte to South Carolina—a team that finished 3-8—could potentially leave the Tar Heels on the outside looking in, even with a victory.
That talk has gone on long enough where UNC’s senior quarterback, Marquise Williams, has gotten tired of hearing about it.
“They had us ranked like fifth going into this year in the Coastal [Division] anyway,” he said. “That’s fine. We like this. We love when people don’t want to talk about us.
“Only thing I can say is just keep winning and eventually they’ll have to write something good about [us].”
In a game expected by many to be a bloodbath of sorts, Williams again sees an opportunity to etch his name even deeper into Tar Heel lore. Playoffs or not, the chance exists to do something that hasn’t been seen in Chapel Hill for nearly four decades.
It’s moments like that which last forever.
“We want to be a team remembered for something,” Williams said. “We want to leave our legacy. We want to make history.
“That was our thing as seniors. Before the season, we sat down with each other and we wrote down our own goals as seniors—what we wanted to do this year to make it special for us.
“This is what [we’re] gonna remember when [we’re] older,” he continued. “I’ll remember playing in the ACC Championship when I’m 50. Maybe 70.
“[Either way], I’ll remember that.”
WCHL will carry the ACC Championship game live on 97.9 FM and 1360 AM. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. It will also be televised on ABC.
Feeling the unfamiliar pressure of the NCAA Tournament bubble, the UNC baseball team rebounded from back-to-back losses to defeat the Clemson Tigers by a score of 6-3 on Friday at the ACC Tournament in Durham.
Both teams finish with records of 1-2 in ACC pool play and are eliminated from conference championship contention.
The Tar Heels are now 34-24 for the season, finishing league play at 15-18. Clemson also ends the year on the bubble–at 32-27 overall and 17-16 in the ACC.
Freshman flamethrower JB Bukauskas (5-3)–like his team–bounced back from a couple of rough starts on the mound in his previous two outings. For the game he gave up five hits in 5.2 innings of two-run ball, striking out seven hitters without walking anyone on his way to the win.
“The last couple times out I haven’t been very sharp, just felt like I didn’t have anything. And I felt a little bit like that in the bullpen today [before the game] until I got out on the mound. It just kinda started to click.” Bukauskas said.
“I felt like I had my fastball more than I did [in recent starts], and the slider just started snapping off better,” he added. “Once I had that, once I felt confident with it I just started throwing it more. And it ended up with a good result.”
In the bottom of the third inning Skye Bolt blasted a three-run homer against Clemson senior right-hander Jake Long (2-1) to break a scoreless tie. From there the Tar Heels never looked back–although they managed all six of their runs on just five hits, taking advantage of eight walks and four errors by the Tiger defense.
“It was a big swing of the bat,” Bolt said. “[We] go ahead 3-0 and JB’s throwing the way he was. It’s important for our guys, it’s important for the team. It’s a good feeling. You wanna be ahead. You wanna have your starting pitcher up there with confidence having a little bit of leeway.”
“And that’s what I was able to provide,” Bolt continued.
UNC found some more offense in the fourth with an RBI single from left fielder Adam Pate and a bases loaded walk drawn by Bolt, who finished one for three at the plate with four RBIs.
Left fielder Reed Rohlman had three hits and second baseman Tyler Krieger had a pair, along with an RBI, to lead the Clemson offense. Krieger drove in the Tigers’ first run with a hard-hit single off Bukauskas in the sixth before coming in to score the second one himself later in the inning after a wild pitch by senior reliever Trevor Kelley.
Neither team picked up a hit until UNC right fielder Tyler Ramirez legged out an infield single in the bottom of the third after Pate previously reached base on a throwing error from Clemson shortstop Eli White–setting up Bolt with two men on base.
Bolt then turned on a 3-2 pitch from Long, sending it deep into the right field bleachers for the homer that gave Bukauskas plenty of breathing room–and that served as the difference in the game.
Clemson put up two runs in the sixth, but they immediately gave one of them right back. White made his second error at shortstop when he lost a pop-up by Bolt in the sun, which allowed Tyler Ramirez to come home and score UNC’s sixth run of the afternoon.
From there, Kelley worked the next three innings to close up shop– despite Clemson creeping to within three on a single by third baseman Weston Wilson.
After the game Bolt said he was confident that the Tar Heels would get into the NCAA Tournament, but UNC head coach Mike Fox still has some reservations about whether his team will make the final cut.
“I think if we [had went] 0-3 [in pool play], there’s a reason to leave us out,” Fox said. “It was a big win for us. Is it enough? I don’t know. I certainly hope so because I’ve enjoyed coaching this team. They compete, and I want my seniors–and obviously these other guys–to experience it.”
The Tar Heels now find their fate in the hands of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. The 64-team NCAA Tournament field will be announced at noon on Monday–and shown live on ESPNU.
A Herculean offensive effort from right-fielder Tyler Ramirez, who homered and drove in five runs altogether, carried the UNC baseball team to an 8-7 come from behind road victory over the Clemson Tigers on Sunday afternoon.
Avoiding the sweep, Carolina sees its record rise to 18-13 with a 7-8 mark in the ACC, while the Tigers fall to 16-15 and sport an identical 7-8 record in league play.
The last thing the Tar Heels needed on Sunday after dropping the first two games of the series was to find themselves in a hole after the first couple innings.
Of course, that’s exactly where they would end up, when Clemson catcher Chris Okey belted a three-run homer in the bottom of the first on a hanging slider from UNC senior starting pitcher Benton Moss (5-0), following a pair of walks.
Moss, who came into the game 4-0 with a 1.95 ERA, surrendered an RBI double in the next inning to Tigers’ center-fielder Tyler Slaton, which put Clemson ahead by four.
Carrying a “never say die” attitude, the Tar Heel offense decided to come to work in the top of the third, beginning the frame with three straight singles to load the bases for Skye Bolt. Bolt grounded into a fielder’s choice driving in just one run, but Carolina scraped across two more thanks to a wild pitch from Clemson’s Brody Koerner (3-4), and Tyler Ramirez’s first RBI hit of the day, to bring themselves back to within one.
It didn’t take long for them to tie the game either, as Korey Dunbar grounded out in the fourth, allowing first baseman Joe Dudek to cross the plate safely.
With Moss settling down to pitch four consecutive scoreless innings, after looking shaky at the start, UNC showed that they might be in business.
Making sure that everyone knew that fact was Ramirez, the sophomore right-fielder out of Suffolk, Virginia. Already with one RBI in the game, Ramirez singled in the fifth inning to score Bolt for the second time, with this one handing the Tar Heels the lead.
Then in the seventh inning, with the score still separated by just one run and two men on base, Ramirez sent a 2-2 pitch from Clemson reliever Aaron Schnell over the wall for a three-run homer, and just like that Carolina was the team ahead by four.
In the least shocking development of the afternoon, the UNC bullpen found a way to make things interesting.
After pitching coach Scott Forbes pulled Benton Moss in the seventh inning, freshman reliever Jason Morgan inherited runners on second and third, and saw shortstop Eli White step in to the box. What followed was a two-run double, which cut the lead in half, before Morgan could retire the next three batters to get out of the jam.
More of the same continued into the eighth when Morgan allowed a lead-off single to Reed Rohlman. Out of the pen came senior Trevor Kelley for his NCAA leading 22nd relief appearance, even after throwing over 50 pitches in Saturday’s loss.
Fatigue showed itself clearly, as Kelley would walk the only two batters he faced. Next up was freshman lefty Nick Raquet, who allowed a run by immediately throwing a wild pitch, forcing the coaches to give Trent Thornton another shot to seal the deal, coming on with the bases loaded and no outs, after taking the loss last night.
Miraculously, Thornton escaped with the lead intact, striking out the first man he saw, and then inducing an inning-ending double play to bring the game to the ninth.
He would then go on to pitch a scoreless final inning, picking up his team-leading fifth save for his efforts.
UNC will begin a seven-game home-stand at Boshamer Stadium on Tuesday, as they welcome Coastal Carolina to Chapel Hill. That game is scheduled to begin at 6 P.M., and is a rematch of March 10, when the Tar Heels traveled to Coastal and came out with a 13-2 loss at the hands of the Chanticleers.
Another Saturday, another tragic 11 inning loss for the UNC baseball team.
The Clemson Tigers used a number of miscues by the Tar Heels to score three runs in the bottom of the 11th inning, climbing back from a two-run deficit on their way to a 5-4 victory, clinching the weekend series in the process.
Winning their second straight game, the Tigers improve to 16-14 overall, and 7-7 in the ACC. UNC drops its second straight weekend series, and falls to 6-8 in the league and 17-13 overall.
In a game eerily similar to the game between UNC and Miami last Saturday afternoon, a pitching duel involving Carolina’s JB Bukauskas, this time against Clemson’s Zack Erwin, dominated the early part of the game, before late fireworks took over the show.
A lead-off single by speedy designated hitter Adam Pate to begin the game initially appeared as if it would kick-start a big Tar Heel rally, as a couple of errors by the Clemson infield allowed Pate to eventually come all the way around and score, and made it seem like the Tigers were a little bit rusty coming off of their series opening win on Friday.
After Pate scored, there were runners on first and second with one out, for catcher Korey Dunbar, the hottest hitter in the Carolina lineup as of late. However, Erwin recovered quickly, getting Dunbar to ground into an inning-ending double play, and squashing any hope the Tar Heels had of building an early cushion.
Despite getting just one run out of the early rally, the way Bukauskas was pitching for UNC, one easily could have been plenty.
Through three frames, the freshman had faced the minimum of nine batters, allowing a lone single to Clemson left-fielder Reed Rohlman, but then getting him off the bases immediately by forcing Chris Okey to hit into a double play.
Clawing back in the fourth, though, the Tigers got a lead-off double in the bottom of the fourth from Tyler Slaton, who came home to score two batters later on another double by another guy named Tyler, designated hitter Tyler Krieger. That hit tied the game, and earned the home team a chance to tack on more.
Back to the plate came Rohlman, Bukauskas’ kryptonite all night long. And facing a 1-1 count, the redshirt freshman singled for his second of three hits on the night, giving Clemson the lead as Krieger rounded third and crossed the plate for the second run of the inning.
From then on though, until the extra innings, the two starting pitchers offered up a clinic to all of the fans lucky enough to be watching.
Erwin allowed the Tar Heels to even the affair in the eighth, on a sacrifice fly by Landon Lassiter which followed three singles, but was sensational all night long, working a full nine innings and striking out 11 hitters, while also becoming the second Clemson pitcher in as many nights to throw at least 117 pitches.
Not wanting to be outdone, Carolina’s freshman phenom delivered 8.1 incredible innings of his own, striking out seven, and giving up just five hits and two runs. Bukauskas also nearly matched Erwin’s pitch total, tossing 116 for the night, before being relieved by bullpen stalwart Trevor Kelley, who finished the bottom of the ninth to push the game into extra innings.
Clemson escaped the top of the 10th unscathed, when reliever Taylor Vetzel struck out UNC’s Joe Dudek with two outs, and runners on second and third, to get out of the jam.
Korey Dunbar reached base on a throwing error against reliever Pat Krall (1-1) to begin the 11th, before Adrian Chacon singled, and Eli Sutherland was hit by a pitch, loading the bags with one out for their freshman shortstop, who earned what could have been the most meaningful fielders’ choice of his young career, as he beat out the throw to first, which allowed Dunbar and Chacon to score, snapping the tie and putting UNC ahead by two.
Bullpen woes ultimately would cost the Tar Heels yet again, though, after the embattled Trent Thornton (1-3) inherited two base-runners from Kelley (courtesy of two walks) with one out in the bottom of the final frame. Two more walks and a wild pitch later, the game was within one run, before a pair of miscues in the field, an errant throw to first base by Logan Warmoth at shortstop, allowed the tying, and winning runs to score.
Sunday’s series finale is scheduled to begin at 1 P.M., with the match-up on the mound pitting the Tar Heels’ hard-throwing senior, Benton Moss (4-0, 1.95 ERA) , against the Tigers’ Brody Koerner (3-3, 6.06 ERA).
Superb all season long on the mound for the Tigers, Matthew Crownover continued his dominance on Friday, going seven innings on 118 pitches, while leading Clemson to a 5-2 victory over the Tar Heel baseball team on Friday night at Clemson’s Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
The teams now share equal 6-7 records within ACC competition. Clemson brings its overall record above .500, at 15-14, and the Tar Heels’ mark falls to 17-12.
When UNC head coach Mike Fox talked this past week about the Tigers, the first thing that popped into his mind was their left-handed ace, who entered the game with a 1.53 ERA. Fox extended a scholarship to Crownover, a Georgia native, while he was in high school, but in the end the lefty would end up bringing his services to head coach Jack Leggett’s Clemson squad, leaving Fox disappointed in the process.
It was clear why on Friday, as Crownover (5-1) cut through the Tar Heel lineup with ease all night long, giving up just seven hits in seven innings, and two runs, which were each given up in the seventh after his pitch count had soared above the century mark. He also struck out eight. Once he retired the first three UNC hitters in the top of the first, he also got some offensive support right away.
A pair of RBI doubles by the Tigers’ Tyler Krieger and Chris Okey off Carolina starting pitcher Zac Gallen (1-2) in the home half of the first gave Clemson a lead it would never relinquish.
Another double in the third, this one with two outs by freshman second baseman Chase Pinder, brought two more runs in for the team in orange, and extended their lead to five. To make matters worse, UNC center-fielder Skye Bolt, arguably the team’s top fielder, previously dropped a fly-ball before there were any outs in the frame, allowing Steven Duggar to score the game’s third run.
However, Gallen would eventually settle down, going the next 3.2 innings without allowing another run, finishing the day having surrendered eight hits with five runs allowed (three earned), and five strikeouts on 99 pitches.
Offensively, the Tar Heels received just two hits in the first five innings, a double by catcher Korey Dunbar in the second, and Landon Lassiter’s single in the fourth, before finally putting a run together in the seventh.
Eli Sutherland, the junior college transfer now playing second base for UNC, kicked things off with a one-out double, and then scoring on an RBI single by designated hitter Adam Pate. Lassiter, who picked up his second hit in the sixth inning, singled in the seventh for his third hit, scoring Adrian Chacon for Carolina’s second tally.
But Clemson reliever Taylor Vetzel, a redshirt sophomore, held strong in the final two innings to pick up his first save of the year, making sure Crownover’s performance would not go to waste. He gave up a walk to the scorching hot Lassiter in the eighth, but came out unscathed otherwise, finishing the eighth, and then throwing a perfect ninth to put an end to any comeback hopes Carolina was clinging on to.
Tomorrow the teams will play the second game of their ACC series, with first pitch scheduled for 6:30 P.M. JB Bukauskas (3-1, 2.77 ERA) will take the mound for Coach Mike Fox’s Tar Heels opposite another Clemson lefty, Zack Erwin (2-3, 3.05 ERA).
Clemson currently sits right at .500 with a 14-14 record, but only trails the Tar Heels in ACC play by one game, sporting a 5-7 league mark, while Carolina is 6-6.
Mix-and-match infields have become the norm for head coach Mike Fox in 2015, as injuries to opening day starters Wood Myers and Adrian Chacon have forced the Tar Heels to move some guys around, and give bigger roles to others.
Myers started the first 14 games of the year at shortstop before fracturing his left fibula on March 10 at Coastal Carolina, and was replaced by freshman Logan Warmoth, who began the year at third. Chacon split time over those same 14 games between first base and catcher, allowing Korey Dunbar to take some breaks from crouching behind the plate every game, while also providing a consistent bat in the middle of the lineup (hitting .319), before going out with hip and back injuries.
Junior college transfer Eli Sutherland has also gotten a chance in the starting nine recently, spending the last 11 outings as the Tar Heels’ second baseman.
However, Coach Fox is not making any excuses for his team.
“We wanna play well right now, so we’ve sort of addressed that a little bit. Let’s quit worrying about guys that are hurt, and when they’re gonna come back, cause we’ve gotta go play now,” Fox says.
“[Our] season can be determined right now if [we’re] not careful. So it will be nice to get all those guys back, but it doesn’t mean they’re gonna, all of a sudden, save our season.”
Sophomore first baseman Joe Dudek has started in just nine games this season, but given the opportunity in the last two (Sunday vs Miami and Tuesday at Elon), the New Jersey native has produced a home run and a pair of clutch doubles, not to mention the Tar Heels won each time.
He credits his mental approach with helping him to stay focused.
“Baseball’s a big mental game,” says Dudek, “So for me, it’s just staying ready and locked in the whole time, and whenever [my] number’s called, just being ready to go.”
The struggles of junior utility infielder Alex Raburn, who’s seen his average fall to .195 after starting in every one of UNC’s first 23 games, and spent time at both second and third, have led Coach Fox to move freshman Zack Gahagan across the diamond, from first base over to third, while inserting the power-hitting Dudek at first.
After coming out on the wrong end of a pair of heartbreakers last weekend at home against Miami, the Tar Heels have now won two in a row entering this month. Part of that success stems from Gahagan’s ability play both first and third, allowing the coaches more line-up flexibility.
The freshman says it’s the love of the game that matters most though, not where he plays in the field.
“I just like being out there, so anywhere I can be, it’s a good feeling to be out there. Wherever the coaches put me in the lineup, that’s where I’ll stick,” says Gahagan.
The expected starting pitcher for Clemson on Friday is junior left-hander Matthew Crownover, who has been lights out this season, on his way to a 4-1 record, while posting a 1.53 ERA. That fact has not been lost on Coach Fox, as he says that once upon a time, he tried to get Crownover to come wear Carolina blue.
“Clemson, we’ve historically played well down there. I hope that continues, but you never know. I know they’ve got a pretty good Friday night guy,” says Coach Fox, “We recruited the heck out of Crownover, so I know he’s been good.”
“It’s another week for us, and hopefully the month of April will be a good one for us,” adds Fox.
Game One of the series is set to begin Friday at 6:30 P.M. with UNC’s Zac Gallen (1-1, 3.48 ERA) facing off with the aforementioned Matt Crownover.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/unc-baseball-finding-help-in-unlikely-places
The No. 19 Tar Heels, who dropped their last two such contests, bolstered that otherwise impressive mark to 51-11. More importantly, they won their fifth straight tilt of the season in improving to 11-3 overall, 1-0 ACC.
Both teams started slowly, with the Tar Heels leading just 7-5 five minutes in on the strength of baskets from three different players. J.P. Tokoto led the way with a jumper and free throw.
UNC led just 11-7 eight minutes in when Landry Nnoko drilled a pair of free throws for the Tigers (8-5, 0-1).
Brice Johnson’s dunk, off a terrific feed from Tokoto, put the Tar Heels up 13-7 at the 10:12 mark and seemed to spark UNC. The Heels enjoyed a 28-10 scoring run before intermission to essentially pull away for good.
Marcus Paige, who has struggled with his shot at times this season, found his rhythm in Clemson in draining three of his first four three pointers. Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson also excelled, while Justin Jackson scored nine straight points during one scintillating stretch.
Jackson led UNC with 13 points, while Meeks had 12 and Paige chipped in with 11. Meeks also dominated the boards with 12 rebounds, including five on the offensive end.
Clemson’s offense struggled mightily in the first half, due in part to a strong effort by hard-charging Tar Heel defenders. The Tigers connected on just 5 of 28 field goal attempts for a paltry 17.9 success rate.
Damarcus Harrison and Donte Grantham netted six points each in the opening 20 minutes, though the latter was 0 for 4 in three-point attempts. He wasn’t alone, as the Tigers launched 14 trey attempts with only Harrison hitting his pair.
Clemson’s bench provided little help, with Jordan Roper scoring the lone point on a free throw attempt.
Jaron Blossomgame led Clemson with 13 points, while Harrison was the only other Tiger to reach double-figures with 11.
Roy Williams’ troops didn’t let up after the break, with a Jackson jumper and Johnson dunk coming in the opening 90 seconds for a 43-19 advantage.
Paige continued to glide on the court, hitting a three-pointer and a running jumper as the Heels extended their lead to 54-26 with a dozen minutes remaining.
Isaiah Hicks put an exclamation mark on the Tar Heels impressive win with an emphatic dunk with 10 minutes remaining.
With huge advantages in both rebounds (49-30) and assists (20-6) and just six turnovers committed, even the hard-driving Williams had to be satisfied with the Heels on this night.
The timing for a crisp performance was ideal, with the Tar Heels facing Notre Dame on Monday night and Louisville on Saturday afternoon. Both games are at the Smith Center.
WCHL’s Matt Oakes had the chance to speak with the the head coach of the Clemson Tigers, Brad Brownell, as his men’s basketball team prepares to host No. 19 North Carolina Saturday night at 8:15 p.m. The two discussed KJ McDaniels’ departure for the NBA, the rugged ACC schedule and of course, the matchup with the Tar Heels.
***Listen to the conversation***
Listen to this interview and much more in our Countdown to Tipoff pregame show starting at 6pm Saturday!http://chapelboro.com/sports/acc/scouting-report-chat-clemson-coach-brad-brownell