Sports

North Carolina wins a close one over Clemson without Roy Williams in the second half

North Carolina assistant coach Steve Robinson after win over Clemson: ‘It’s not an easy thing to do to pick up in the middle of a game and be able to manage our players and their emotions’

Robinson addresses the media following the Tar Heels' win over Clemson. Robinson stepped in for head coach Roy Williams after he suffered a vertigo attack in the first half.
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Robinson addresses the media following the Tar Heels' win over Clemson. Robinson stepped in for head coach Roy Williams after he suffered a vertigo attack in the first half.

For about 30 minutes of game action, it appeared North Carolina did not have it.

UNC, which had been playing its best basketball of the season in February after finishing the month 7-1, trailed Clemson at Littlejohn Coliseum for most of the game.

But the Tar Heels found momentum and won a tight one 81-79.

They did it without their head coach, Roy Williams, who had to be escorted off the floor with about 54 seconds left in the first half after suffering from an episode of vertigo, which he has dealt with over the course of his career.

“I jerked around and tried to get Seventh (Woods) in for Kenny (Williams) because he was struggling shooting the ball and we made him work so hard guarding Marcquise Reed,” Williams said. “Wanted to give him a break, and then I went down. It’s excruciating pain for a little while. I started feeling a heck of a lot better. We was up six or seven, I didn’t want to jinx it....And yes I’m a little superstitious.”

Associate head coach Steve Robinson filled in for Williams.

No. 5 UNC (24-5, 14-2 ACC) has now won 12 of its last 13 games and remains tied atop the ACC standings with Virginia.

UNC freshman Coby White followed up his 34-point performance on Tuesday against Syracuse with 28 points and five assists against Clemson. He led all scorers.

UNC senior forward Luke Maye, who hit some clutch shots down the stretch, had 13 and 10 rebounds. And graduate senior Cam Johnson added 19 points.

It wasn’t the prettiest performance for the Tar Heels. They shot 35 percent from the floor in the first half, and had eight turnovers. They trailed by as many as six points in the second half.

Clemson jumped out to a 54-48 lead in the first nine minutes after halftime.

But the Tar Heels soon rallied.

RAL_UNCCLEMSON-SP-030219-RT
North Carolina Roy Williams is escorted off the court after passing out in the first half against Clemson on Saturday, March 2, 2019 at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson, S.C. Williams tuned around to face his bench and fell forward, with players and assistant coaches catching is fall. He waved to the crowd as he was escorted off the court. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Maye knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the key to cut Clemson’s lead to one point. After a Clemson miss, Maye scored a layup while being fouled to give the Tar Heels a two-point lead with 8:43 left in the game. Clemson sophomore forward Aamir Simms answered with a 3-pointer to take one-point lead, but it was brief.

UNC senior Kenny Williams hit a jumpshot, Seventh Woods took a charge, and Coby White nailed a 3-pointer to give the Tar Heels a four-point lead with 7:31 remaining.

“The first half, I thought we were a little bit impatient,” Robinson said. “We were pretty quick trigger with some of our shots. There were segments in the game where we became very frantic. I kept talking to them about poise and Coby got the ball in his hands, and he got some daylight and he knocked down some big shots.”

“And not only him Kenny hit some clutch, cluch free throws.”

They never trailed again. Clemson (17-12, 7-9) twice cut the lead to one point, once with 18 seconds left and the other with nine seconds left. But each time, Kenny Williams hit free throws to extend the lead.

Clemson guard Marcquise Reed, who came into the game averaging 19 points per game, almost helped lead his team to victory. He finished with 24 points.

But the Tar Heels held on.

“Sometimes you got to win some close ones, some uglier ones,” UNC graduate senior Cam Johnson said. “We made some plays that maybe weren’t the best down the stretch but we won the game so that’s all that matters.”

UNC will play at Boston College Tuesday.

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Jonathan M. Alexander has been covering the North Carolina Tar Heels since May 2018. He previously covered Duke basketball and recruiting in the ACC. He is an alumnus of N.C. Central University.
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