ACC Baseball Tournament: Tar Heels Pick Up Big Win Over Clemson

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.

Skye Bolt (20) broke the game wide open with a three-run homer in the third inning. (Sara D. Davis,

Skye Bolt (20) broke the game wide open with a three-run homer in the third inning. (Sara D. Davis,

“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.

JB Bukauskas was back to normal after struggling in recent starts. (Sara D. Davis/

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.”

Up Next:

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.

Game Notes:

  • UNC announced via Twitter on Friday that junior left fielder Landon Lassiter has been suspended indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team. He did not play against Clemson.
  • Skye Bolt’s home run was his 10th of the season and 20th of his career at Carolina.
  • After going 2-4 on Friday, Tyler Ramirez has reached base in 28 straight games for the Tar Heels.


Ramirez Carries Tar Heels to Much Needed Win at Clemson

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.

Benton Moss picked up the win, despite not having his best stuff. (UNC Athletics)

Benton Moss picked up the win, despite not having his best stuff. (UNC Athletics)

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.

Joe Dudek scored on Korey Dunbar's groundout in the fourth. (UNC Athletics)

Joe Dudek scored on Korey Dunbar’s groundout in the fourth. (UNC Athletics)

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.

Holding on for the save was Trent Thornton, after another shaky outing by the Carolina bullpen. (UNC Athletics)

Holding on for the save was Trent Thornton, after another shaky outing by the Carolina bullpen. (UNC Athletics)

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.

Up Next:

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.

Game Notes:

  • Final statistics for Moss had the senior working six innings, and tying a career high with six earned runs, while giving up eight hits and striking out just three. His ERA went up to 3.21, but he was still credited with the win.
  • Ramirez moves into the UNC lead for RBI (25), and ties Skye Bolt for the team lead in home runs (four).
  • Capitalizing on opportunities, the Tar Heels hit 4-10 with runners in scoring position (.400).


Tar Heels Snatch Defeat From the Jaws of Victory

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.

Clemson lefty Zack Erwin pitched an incredible nine innings on 117 pitches. (

Clemson lefty Zack Erwin pitched an incredible nine innings on 117 pitches. (

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.

Freshman flamethrower JB Bukauskas kept up his impressive performance in ACC play. (UNC Athletics)

Freshman flamethrower JB Bukauskas kept up his impressive performance in ACC play. (UNC Athletics)

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.

Shortstop Logan Warmoth beat out what looked to be a sure double play ball in the 11th, allowing the two runs to score. (UNC Athletics)

Shortstop Logan Warmoth beat out what looked to be a sure double play ball in the 11th, allowing two runs to score. (UNC Athletics)

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.

Up Next:

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).

Game Notes:

  • Clemson recorded four double plays on defense, stomping out quite a few Carolina opportunities.
  • UNC senior reliever Trevor Kelley has now appeared in 21 of the Tar Heels’ 30 games, a mark that leads the NCAA.
  • Bukauskas lowered his ERA to 2.66 on the year.
  • In the hit column, the Tar Heels had an 11-5 edge. Skye Bolt led the charge, finishing 3-6.


Tigers Come Uncaged Early, Shut Down Tar Heels Late

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.

Zac Gallen settled down eventually, but allowed five runs in the first three innings. (UNC Athletics)

Zac Gallen settled down eventually, but allowed five runs in the first three innings. (UNC Athletics)

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.

The Tar Heels were unable to rally late. (UNC Athletics)

The Tar Heels were unable to rally late. (UNC Athletics)

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.

Up Next:

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).

Game Notes:

  • Landon Lassiter was the clear MVP for UNC, going 3-3 with a walk and an RBI
  • Crownover’s ERA was lowered to 1.33, as neither run he allowed was earned.
  • For the game, Clemson hit 4-12 (.333) with two outs.

UNC Baseball Finding Help In Unlikely Places

With recent injuries testing its infield depth, the 17-11 UNC baseball team heads to Clemson this weekend for a three-game ACC series against the Tigers in search of some crucial conference wins.

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.

Joe Dudek has been a key contributor since being re-inserted to the starting line-up. (UNC Athletics)

Joe Dudek has been a key contributor since being re-inserted to the starting line-up. (UNC Athletics)

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.

Zack Gahagan has shown great versatility, performing well at both first and third base. (UNC Athletics)

Zack Gahagan has shown great versatility, performing well at both first and third base. (UNC Athletics)

“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.

UNC will face a stiff test on Friday against Clemson lefty Matthew Crownover. (Clemson Athletics)

UNC will face a stiff test on Friday against Clemson lefty Matthew Crownover. (Clemson Athletics)

“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.

Tar Heels Crush Clemson 74-50 To Win ACC Opener

The UNC men’s basketball team got back on track when it comes to winning ACC openers, crushing the Clemson Tigers 74-50 Saturday night at Littlejohn Coliseum.

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.

Roy Williams addresses his team (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams addresses his team (Todd Melet)

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.

Marcus Paige jumps over a Tiger defender (Todd Melet)

Marcus Paige jumps over a Tiger defender (Todd Melet)

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.


Scouting Report: A Chat with Clemson Coach Brad Brownell

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!

Tar Heels Hope To Tame Tigers In ACC Opener

The No. 19 North Carolina men’s basketball team sits at 10-3 on the season, but is still in search of consistent play heading into its ACC opener. Saturday night’s matchup against the 8-4 Clemson Tigers in the hostile atmosphere of Littlejohn Coliseum will be no easy hurdle to clear.

***Listen to the story***

The Tar Heels are still uncertain with what exactly they’ve got.

So far this season, they’ve shown bursts of the kind of athletic offense and lock-down defense that could rival nearly any team in the country, but then UNC has also displayed vulnerability that the players and coaching staff says is stemming from a lack of focus and intensity.

Brice Johnson extends for the dunk (Todd Melet)

Brice Johnson extends for the dunk (Todd Melet)

There could be no better time for Carolina to begin locking in for a full forty minutes of basketball than conference season.

Sophomore forward Kennedy Meeks, who’s been the most reliable performer on an inconsistent squad up to this point, says he’s bracing himself for the ACC grind ahead.

“That’s the toughest part of the year, honestly. It’s just a grind seeing the same teams twice. They’re figuring out your plays and being a lot more aggressive on defense. It’s going to be hard, but we just have to overcome and keep playing every play,” Meeks says.

Meeks even goes so far as to say the ACC gauntlet is tougher than having to face the undefeated and unanimous No. 1 team in the land, Kentucky.

“It’s definitely tougher. Like I’ve said, the grind of back-to-back games or seeing teams twice – that’s as hard as it gets seeing a team twice in a month and a half or so,” Meeks says.

The Tar Heels have seen a lot of zone defense so far this season and will likely be seeing a few more teams adopt the formation against Carolina in the conference slate.

UNC head coach Roy Williams says the big men like Meeks and Brice Johnson need to be more active inside to free up shooters like Marcus Paige and Justin Jackson.

“I said at the start of the year that I thought we’d get better as shooters. I think we have. We got to do a better job of moving against the zone. Kennedy and Brice got to do a better job for sure. Then the zone has to worry about those guys a little bit and then, we’ll have more open outside shots as well,” Coach Williams says.

The Tigers boast a trio of players averaging in double digits per game, including talented freshman Jaron Blossomgame, but UNC may get a heavy dose of Rod Hall, who’s been knocking down 50 percent of his shots from behind the arc.

Roy Williams hasn't been pleased with UNC's inconsistency (Todd Melet)

Roy Williams hasn’t been pleased with UNC’s inconsistency (Todd Melet)

Junior forward Brice Johnson says he’s under no illusions and knows any team in the ACC is capable of taking the Tar Heels down if they don’t give every opponent their full attention.

“It’s a whole different ball game once you start ACC play. Every night you have to bring it and if you don’t you’re going to get beat. We have to play with a lot more consistency than we have. We have to get ready for it,” Johnson says.

Coach Williams says he had hoped the sloppy mistakes and turnovers would have been all cleaned up by now, but nevertheless, there’s still plenty to focus on at practice.

“I think we’ve gotten better, but we made more mistakes tonight [vs. W&M] than I would hope we’d make. I would hope that we’d get rid of those mistakes four days before the first conference game. It will be a bog challenge for us in practice to focus on the things that we need to focus on to get a heck of a lot better,” Coach Williams says.

With games against Top-25 ranked Notre Dame and Louisville on deck after the Clemson excursion, the Tar Heels are running out of time to get in peak form.

Tar Heel Men’s Soccer Edges Clemson, Advances To QFs

Rob Lovejoy netted a pair of goals and goalie Brendan Moore turned aside every shot he faced except for a penalty kick to help the UNC men’s soccer team advance to the final eight in the NCAA tournament with a 2-1 road win over Clemson Sunday evening.

Lovejoy, who missed the entire 2013 season due to a torn groin muscle, was terrific in scoring his fourth and fifth goals of the season for the Tar Heels (15-5-1).

Lovejoy’s first goal came off a superbly placed corner kick by Omar Holness that he headed into the top right corner of the netting for a 1-0 lead 13 minutes in.

The senior forward’s second tally came after he burglarized the ball from Manolo Sanchez in the offensive zone and ripped a shot into the lower right corner of the goal.

The Greensboro native’s second goal came after the midpoint of the second half and snapped a 1-1 tie.

Moore was terrific throughout, using superb positioning and quickness between the pipes to shut down Clemson. The Tigers (12-7-3) lone goal came via a Kyle Fisher penalty kick that he blasted down the middle of the goal at the 23-minute mark of the opening half.

Moore started to go to his right but still nearly booted the shot away, though the force of the drive was too much to be denied. Moore still collected seven saves, compared to just a pair for Tiger netminder Andrew Tarbell.

Otherwise it was match of missed opportunities for Clemson, as Sanchez either shot wide on a few chances or was stymied by Moore. Clemson’s national title count will hold at two, while the Tar Heels will continue their pursuit for a third crown.

UNC moved on to the quarterfinals for the sixth time in the last seven years. The Tar Heels will play the winner of Sunday night’s match between No. 2 seed UCLA and 15th-seed California.

Soccer Sweet Sixteen: Tar Heels @ Tigers

The North Carolina men’s soccer team meets seventh-seeded Clemson Sunday evening at 6 p.m. at Historic Riggs Field in the NCAA Men’s Soccer Championship Round of 16.

The Tar Heels, 14-5-1 on the season, advanced to the third round with a thrilling 2-1 victory at 10th-seed Charlotte last Sunday. Tyler Engel scored both goals for the Heels, including the game winner in the 89th minute.

Clemson, meanwhile, held off Coastal Carolina by the same 2-1 margin in a Monday night matchup on home turf.

The two ACC foes played earlier this season on Oct. 3 in Chapel Hill. Carolina fell behind 2-0, but the Tar Heels stormed back and won the match on a Raby George penalty kick in the 102nd minute.

But the Tigers went on the claim the ACC Championship earlier this month at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C.

The winner of Sunday’s match moves on to the quarterfinals and will face the survivor from the California-UCLA contest.