CLEMSON, S.C. — On more than one occasion during Wednesday's first half, several Tar Heels' eyes strayed to the scoreboard at Littlejohn Coliseum. Whether they were double-checking their double-figure deficit in disbelief, or trying to figure out how much longer before they could escape from Clemson, was not immediately clear.
But this is, after watching No. 24 Tigers dismantle the North Carolina 83-64, marking the largest margin of defeat - home or away -- the Roy Williams era: UNC still has a lot of work to do if it finally wants to win a true road game this season.
"I've never felt like this before,'' fifth-year senior Marcus Ginyard said, after hundreds of orange-clad fans rushed the court in celebration. "... You've just got to play with poise; be calm under pressure, be even more focused. And all those places we needed to elevate our game tonight, we went the opposite. And that obviously made it that much worse."
UNC (12-5, 1-1 ACC) saw its 10-game winning streak over the Tigers (14-3, 2-1) crushed because it couldn't hold onto the ball (tying a season-high with 26 turnovers); couldn't keep up with Clemson's lightning, pressing, pace; couldn't slow Tigers point guard Demontez Stitt (20 points) or forward Trevor Booker (21); and couldn't get much output from big men Deon Thompson and Ed Davis (eight points and nine rebounds, combined).
"I just think the pace of the game made it difficult to get the ball inside to myself and Ed,'' Thompson said. "The pace, and we weren't doing a very good job of taking care of the ball, so that made it difficult."
The game took its tone early as the Tigers turned three straight UNC turnovers into six straight points. It was a sign of things to come. Carolina (playing without reserve forward Tyler Zeller, who sat out with a sore right foot) cut its early deficit to 9-6 on a transition bucket from Ginyard - back in the starting lineup at shooting guard -- before the Tigers ran away with a 26-6 streak.
Clemson - which used its full-court press to jostle UNC throughout the game -- buried five 3-pointers during that run, while Carolina committed seven turnovers. When the Tar Heels did manage to get the ball around the rim, they missed everything from 3-pointers to layups; their only buckets came on a drive by Leslie McDonald, and a Travis Wear shot off the glass and the putback. The Tigers never trailed, and led by as many as 23 points in the first half.
"We thought we could turn them over, they've struggled with that,'' said Tigers coach Oliver Purnell. "... And that's what we do when we're playing well; that's Clemson basketball."
UNC tried, in vain, to get something going in the second half, as point guard Larry Drew II followed a Will Graves 3-pointer with a driving layup to cut it to 68-57 with about six minutes left. But Stitt followed with a 3-point play to give Clemson back a 71-57 cushion, and that's as close as it got for the Tar Heels.
The game marked the largest margin of defeat in the Williams era, surpassing the 84-66 loss to Kansas in the Final Four in 2008. Carolina is now 0-3 in true road games this season, having also lost at Kentucky and College of Charleston. It is also 1-2 in neutral-site games -- losing to Syracuse at Madison Square Garden and to Texas in Dallas, and beating Ohio State in Madison Square Garden.
"This is something in my four years that I'm not really used to,'' said Thompson, whose two previous Tar Heels squads lost only two road games, total "but this is a different team. "We've got to find the right way to put it all together."