CLEMSON - If Clemson was going to end its 10-game losing streak to North Carolina, it wasn’t going to come easy.
The 20th-ranked Tigers held a 16-point lead at halftime, only to see it erased, before escaping with an 82-78 win against the 19th-ranked Tar Heels on Tuesday night at Littlejohn Coliseum.
Clemson had not defeated North Carolina since the 2009-10 season and entered the matchup having lost 20 of 21 against North Carolina.
The win was the first for the Tigers against UNC in the Brad Brownell era. Brownell also earned his first win over Notre Dame earlier this season.
“A terrific win for our guys,” Clemson’s head coach said following the victory. “It’s great because this team just needs to keep winning games… I’m certainly glad to finally beat North Carolina and Notre Dame. I haven’t beaten those guys yet… Been close several times, but it’s more about what this team is doing.”
Marcquise Reed came up big down the stretch for the Tigers (18-4, 7-3) after Joel Berry’s jumper with 2:05 remaining tied the game at 74.
Brownell called a play for Reed, who was able to get open and drill a 3-pointer with 1:42 remaining to give Clemson a 77-74 lead.
After both teams missed shots, Reed assisted on an Elijah Thomas layup to put Clemson ahead by five with 29 seconds left. The Tigers made their free throws down the stretch to secure the victory.
“It’s huge. We’ve been playing pretty good ball at home all year, so just trying to continue to protect the house,” Tigers guard Gabe DeVoe said. “This is my first time beating North Carolina, and being an in-state kid it means a little more to me.”
While Reed closed out the game late, DeVoe made big shots early to help the Tigers build a 44-28 halftime lead.
The Shelby, N.C. native scored nine points in the first half while knocking down three 3-pointers. As a team, the Tigers made 10 of 19 3s in the first half and finished 15 of 30 from behind the arc.
DeVoe made 5 of Clemson’s 15 3-pointers and finished with 17 points.
“Just shooting the ball with confidence,” DeVoe said of the key to his success. “My teammates trust in me, coaches believe in me, just playing with a free mind shooting the ball.”
Reed led the Tigers with 20 points, while Shelton Mitchell added 14 and Elijah Thomas finished with 11. Thomas also had six rebounds and a game-high six blocks.
“I thought we came out with really good confidence, shot it great. Our team feels good about the way we’re playing,” Brownell said.
North Carolina (16-7, 5-5) played most of the game without starter Theo Pinson, who was injured in the opening minutes, as well as reserve point guard Jalek Felton, who was suspended by the university on Tuesday.
The Tar Heels had Berry and Cameron Johnson step up, combining for 59 points.
Johnson was 6-for-10 on 3-point attempts and poured in a game-high 32, while Berry was 10 of 16 from the floor and finished with 27. No one else for UNC scored in double figures.
“They just have great players and there were some shots that they made that were tough shots… You let Joel Berry and Cam Johnson start playing with a free mind you’re in trouble,” Brownell said. “We knew they were going to make a run. We just had to withstand it.”
In addition to its veterans, Clemson also had several young players step up with Donte Grantham out for the year and reserve Mark Donnal unable to play against UNC.
Clyde Trapp scored six points with two assists and a rebound in 13 minutes, while Aamir Simms added six points and five rebounds.
“It was really good to see some of our young players, our freshmen come in and play very well and make major contributions,” Brownell said. “All of them made big plays. A great team win. I couldn’t be prouder of our guys.”
Clemson had less than 48 hours to prepare for North Carolina but will not play again until Saturday at 2 p.m. against Wake Forest.