When the final overtime buzzer sounded, Clemson forward John Newman III picked up head coach Brad Brownell in celebration. The Tigers had seconds earlier done something that no Clemson team had ever done before: win in Chapel Hill.
Clemson entered Saturday’s contest having lost 59 straight games on the road against UNC, an NCAA-record road losing streak against a single opponent. But after a late second half rally forced the game into overtime, Clemson prevailed in the extra frame, winning 79-76.
“We have to play really well to beat a team like North Carolina at North Carolina,” Brownell said leading up to contest. “That’s just the way it is.” The Tigers did just that.
Williams had a chance to make his own history on Saturday. A UNC win would have moved the Tar Heels coach above North Carolina legend Dean Smith into fourth all-time for most Division I men’s college basketball victories. But with the loss, the Tar Heels dropped to 8-8 on the season and are in danger of letting 2019-20 slip away.
UNC entered Saturday’s matchup having lost seven of its last 10 games, including its last two, falling to Georgia Tech and Pitt. Following the loss to the Yellow Jackets earlier this week, Williams issued a blunt assessment of his team, calling them “the least gifted team I’ve ever coached in the time that I’ve been back here.”
“We stunk, O.K. We were not very good,” Williams said on his radio show Roy Williams Live last Monday. “The crazy thing about it is, our team, and we’ve had some very gifted teams, this is not a very gifted team. It’s just not.”
UNC lost three players from last year’s roster who were first-round picks in the 2019 NBA draft. Forward Cameron Johnson led North Carolina with 16.9 points per game before being selected No. 11, while point Coby White went No. 7 to the Bulls. North Carolina added five-star point guard Cole Anthony in the class of 2019, but Anthony was ruled out indefinitely with a knee injury on Dec. 15. North Carolina added five-star point guard Cole Anthony in the class of 2019, but Anthony was ruled out indefinitely with a knee injury on Dec. 15.
Williams has only missed the NCAA tournament twice: his first season at Kansas (1988-89) and the 2009-10 season at North Carolina.
Clemson (8-7), on the other hand, is looking to reach its second NCAA tournament in three seasons. Tigers forward Aamir Simms finished the win with 20 points, eight rebounds and six assists while Newman added 17 points.
UNC guard Brandon Robinson scored a game-high 27 points in the loss. The Tar Heels travel to Pittsburgh next weekend looking to avenge their recent loss Panthers and snap a three-game losing streak.
Clemson hosts No. 2 Duke on Tuesday evening. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. ET.