CLEMSON, S.C. — North Carolina played its best game of the season.
Clemson played its worst.
That combination produced a resounding 74-50 North Carolina victory against Clemson Saturday night in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener for both teams at Littlejohn Coliseum.
“I told (Clemson coach) Brad Brownell that was the best we’ve played this year,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “And there’s no question that Clemson missed shots tonight that they make a lot of times. Brad’s team is not going to shoot it like that most nights.”
Brownell certainly hopes not.
Clemson missed 18 of its first 21 shots en route to a season-low shooting percentage of 28.3 percent.
“Obviously our offense was our problem,” Brownell said. “We didn’t make any shots early and that puts so much pressure on you as a team. I’m disappointed. I thought we’d play much better than we did tonight.”
Sophomore forward Kennedy Meeks had 12 points and 12 rebounds for No. 19 North Carolina, which improved to 11-3 with its fifth consecutive victory.
Freshman forward Justin Jackson added 13 points, junior guard Marcus Paige 11 and junior forward Brice Johnson 10 points and eight rebounds for the Tar Heels, who have won seven in a row and 16 of the last 17 against the Tigers.
Clemson’s Brownell, whose team slipped to 8-5, 0-1, remained winless against the Tar Heels in nine tries.
In addition to pursuing Brownell’s 250th victory as a head coach, Clemson also was seeking a victory against a Top 20 North Carolina team for the 14th time in school history.
But it was all North Carolina, which had 20 assists on 28 field goals and shot 44.4 percent from the floor. The Tar Heels also outrebounded Clemson by a 49-30 margin.
North Carolina wasted little time taking the drama out of this matchup, scoring the first five points of the game and steadily building on its lead to gain a 39-17 halftime advantage.
Jackson was dominant during one stretch, scoring on four straight North Carolina possessions and capping the surge with a 3-pointer from the left wing that gave the Tar Heels a 25-10 lead with six minutes left in the half.
Jackson and Meeks led North Carolina with nine first-half points each.
Clemson didn’t help its cause, finishing the first half just 5 of 28 (17.9 percent).
Redshirt sophomore forward Jaron Blossomgame led the Tigers with 13 points — his 12th double-figure game in 13 games this season. Senior guard Damarcus Harrison added 11 points.
“We couldn’t buy a shot in the first half,” said Blossomgame, who scored all of his points in the second half. “We were getting good looks, we just couldn’t knock them down and it got out of hand early. A lot of things have to change for us to start winning these games.”
Remarkably, it wasn’t the Tigers’ worst-shooting half of the season. Clemson made just five field goals in the second half of a win against Nevada on Nov. 22 and five field goals in a loss at South Carolina on Dec. 19.
Harrison and freshman forward Donte Grantham each scored six first-half points to lead the Tigers, who face a brutal ACC stretch now with consecutive road games at Louisville, Pittsburgh and Virginia.
“I don’t care who we play or where we play next or when we play, we have to be tougher minded,” Brownell said. “We have things we just need to get better at before we start worrying about who’s next.”
While Clemson struggled, North Carolina made it look easy, opening the second half with a 7-2 run to extend its lead to 27. The Tar Heels’ lead swelled to 30 points when Meeks scored on a follow shot for a 64-34 advantage with 7:24 left.
North Carolina connected on 5 of 13 3-pointers, but the Tar Heels also were dominant inside, scoring 34 points in the paint and holding 6-foot-10 Clemson center Landry Nnoko to just two points, his second-lowest output of the season.
“We’ve lost our conference opener two years in a row and we wanted to make sure we didn’t do that again,” Williams said. “Our kids were confident and I think we played that way.”
NOTES: Clemson senior PG
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