Visit to UNC awaits Clemson
Published 12:00 am Monday, January 19, 2009
By Pete Iacobelli
CLEMSON, S.C. ó For a quick recovery from its first defeat, No. 10 Clemson will need a win at North Carolina ó where the Tigers are 0-53.
It is the worst such streak in college basketball.
The Tigers, whose 16-0 start ended Saturday with a 78-68 home loss to new No. 1 Wake Forest, will play the Tar Heels on Wednesday night.
“It’s a tough place for us to go bounce back,” Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. “But it is a good opportunity for us as well to show we’re a good team. We’re resilient.”
That’s much easier said than done.
The Tigers (16-1, 2-1 ACC) have lost close ones and blowouts. They’ve lost to UNC greats like Michael Jordan and Phil Ford and lost to clubs even the bluest Carolina fans hope to forget.
Some talk of a curse on Clemson, a mystic hex where the Tigers never taste victory and eternally trudge home defeated from Tobacco Road. After last season, you couldn’t blame Clemson fans for buying into it.
The Tigers led by 15 points and looked well on their way toward exorcising five decades of loss. Instead, the Tar Heels rallied for a 103-93 double-overtime victory.
That disappointment came sandwiched between two other close calls, North Carolina’s 90-88 overtime victory at Clemson and an 86-81 UNC win in the ACC Tournament title game.
Jinxed? Not this group, Purnell says.
“We don’t want to address any curse because I don’t believe in any curse,” he said flatly. “It’s not about the 50-something we haven’t won. It’s about the three we didn’t get last year.”
The Tigers remained 10th in The Associated Press rankings despite losing against Wake in their only game of the week.
Clemson appears every bit as strong as a season ago, when it reached the NCAA tournament for the first time in 10 years, won it’s most ACC games (10) since 1990 and reached the ACC Tournament final for the first time in 46 years.
Clemson’s rotation, led by shot-blocking forward Trevor Booker and sweet-shooting K.C. Rivers, goes 10 deep. The Tigers, though, ran up against a defense every bit as tough as them Saturday. The team got together Sunday to watch Wake film, shoot foul shots and talk about the No. 5 Tar Heels.
“I sensed that they were OK,” Purnell said. “I sensed that they were wanting to hear what happened and wanted a path to run on to kind of move forward.”
Rivers, a senior captain, vows the players will be ready to again go sneaker to sneaker at the Smith Center with the fifth-ranked Tar Heels.
“It is the premiere school that has all the accolades as far as the guys that have been through there,” Rivers said. “But what’s on their basketball court is 10 players, five of theirs and five of ours. We’ve got to go out there and know we can play with them.”
Purnell acknowledged that the long losing streak may have crept into his players’ heads during crunch time a year ago and opened the way for the UNC comeback.
Purnell would love the same situation this time with his more experienced group. After all, Clemson didn’t lose consecutive games in the conference last season, a sign the players understood what it took to get back to winning.
“We’re talking about it as an opportunity,” Purnell said. “Not following some script that was written out before they were born.”