UNC loses Theo Pinson, then first game to Clemson since 2010

Turns out it can get worse for North Carolina than a home loss to N.C. State.

The Tar Heels lost one player to a suspension, another to an injury and a third straight ACC game on Tuesday.

No. 20 Clemson poured in 3-pointers like salt in an open wound in the first half and then held on for a 82-78 win over the 19th-ranked Tar Heels.

Clemson’s Gabe Devoe (10) celebrates after sinking a three-point basket during the first half against North Carolina on Tuesday, January 30, 2018 at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson, S.C. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Junior guard Marcquise Reed (20 points) made a 3-pointer with to break a 74-74 tie with 1:41 left and then fed junior forward Elijah Thomas for a layup and a 79-74 lead with 27.6 seconds left.

Shelton Mitchell put the game away at the free-throw line in the final 16 seconds for the Tigers (18-4, 7-3 ACC).

Cam Johnson had a career-high 32 points to lead a furious comeback for UNC (16-7, 5-5), which trailed by 16 at the half. Senior guard Joel Berry added 27 points but no other UNC player finished in double figures.

Clemson was able to hold junior forward Luke Maye, UNC’s top scorer on the season, to a season-low four points.

It was the second straight game UNC had two players have a standout game but little help from the rest of the roster.

“I don’t like it to be just two guys,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “(With) our teams, it has never been just two guys. (With) our best teams, it has been four, five or six.”

North Carolina coach Roy Williams reacts to a turnover by his team in the second half against Clemson on Tuesday, January 30, 2018 at Littlejohn Coliseum inn Clemson, S.C. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

The Tar Heels are running out of available scholarship players to find balance. A nine-hour flurry of bad news for UNC started with the suspension of freshman guard Jalek Felton before the game and continued with a shoulder injury to senior forward Theo Pinson just 1 minute and 32 seconds into the game.

The Tigers just added to the misery by hitting 15 3-pointers and breaking a 10-game losing streak to the Tar Heels.

It is the first time since the 2013-14 season UNC has lost three straight games. The Heels are just 1-4 on the road in league play.

The Heels expected to be without Felton, a reserve who was suspended indefinitely by the university and is being investigated for a misconduct case, but not Pinson.

North Carolina’s Theo Pinson (1) reacts after falling early in the first half against Clemson on Tuesday, January 30, 2018 at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson, S.C. Pinson injured his hip and shoulder on the fall and did not return to play. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

The 6-6 senior, who has started every game, fell hard to the floor after he jumped up for a rebound at 18:28 in the first half. Pinson was fouled in the air by Clemson forward David Skara and then braced for his fall and landed awkwardly.

He favored his left arm as he walked into the visiting locker room for treatment and unable to return.

After the game, Pinson said the injury was not serious and he would be fine for Saturday’s home with Pittsburgh.

But UNC’s defense has struggled to defend the 3-point line this season with Pinson and it wasn’t any better on Tuesday.

N.C. State went 15 of 30 in Saturday’s 95-91 overtime win and the Tigers picked up where they left off with 10 3s, on 19 attempts, in the first half.

Clemson’s first seven field goals were 3-pointers. Seven different Tigers made a 3, including five from senior guard Gave DeVoe (17 points) in their first win over UNC since 2010.

After falling behind 44-28 at the half, tt was UNC’s turn to get hot. Johnson scored 20 of his 32 points in the second half and the Heels shot 64.3 percent, including 6 of 10 from the 3-point line.

North Carolina’s Cameron Johnson (13) drives to the basket between Clemson’s David Skara (24) and Aamir Simms (25) late in the game on Tuesday, January 30, 2018 at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson, S.C. Johnson scored 32 points in the Tar Heels’ 82-78 loss to Clemson. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

But after UNC fought all the way back to tie it at 74, Reed got loose for a clean look from the wing for Clemson’s 15th 3 of the game.

“We’re not going to win too many games with teams hitting 15 3-point shots a game,” Berry said.

Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer