(WSPA) – The sports team at WSPA has created a ‘Top 10 Moments in Clemson Athletics History’ countdown. Starting Tuesday, April 14 we will be revealing portions of the list daily on WSPA Channel 7 News and online at wspa.com leading up to the top moment in Tigers history. Be sure to follow along as we break down these monumental achievements featuring interviews with former Clemson Sports Information Director and longtime color analyst Tim Bourret, who’s still heard on their radio network and works with the Clemson sports department covering Tigers Golf.
#9: Men’s Basketball snaps 59-game losing streak at NC (2020)
An underwhelming campaign by the Tigers, in a season cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, still provided an historic moment cementing the 2020 unit as the only team in program history to defeat North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels’ 59-game winning streak at home against Clemson was the longest such streak over another opponent in NCAA history.
The 2019-20 Clemson Tigers were rebuilding after losing several starters from the 2018 team, which made a second round exit from the NIT. Although the program was two seasons removed from an appearance in the NCAA Tourney’s Sweet Sixteen, there was still too much to overcome in the starting lineup to inspire much optimism heading into the new campaign. And if one thing appeared almost certain, it was a Tigers loss to the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill. In their history, Clemson had never once beaten North Carolina on its home court. They were 0-59 in a series that dated back to 1926.
“The streak had taken on a life of its own,” said Tim Bourret, former Clemson sports information director.
The Game (January 11, 2020)
The date was January 11, 2020. A struggling North Carolina team (8-7) looked to avoid a 3-game losing streak, all at home, when taking on Clemson (7-7) that was coming off of an 11-point win over NC State. UNC was without standout freshman guard Jeremiah Francis and top performer Cole Anthony, further endangering a group that head coach Roy Williams had previously referred to as the “least gifted team” he had coached since being with the Tar Heels. Everything seemed to be in place for the Tigers to make history.
Although both teams came out sluggish, UNC jumped out to an early lead. Through nearly four minutes of play the Tar Heels had a mere 5-2 advantage. Offensive rebounds were hard to come by, and so were the buckets. But UNC forward Armando Bacot made his presence felt early, converting free throws and contested layups. At the midway point of the first half it was an 8-4 advantage for the men in Carolina blue.
Approaching halftime, it was UNC guard Brandon Smith who took over by making a couple clutch three-pointers coupled with lockdown defense and converting all of his free throws. The Tigers cut the Tar Heels lead to single digits with about five minutes remaining in the half, but as the halftime horn sounded it took a final-second triple by Al-Amir Dawes to make it 39-29 UNC at the break.
A few minutes into the 2nd half neither team had gained any ground. But at 16:44 Tevin Mack hit from deep to pull Clemson within seven. Then Dawes dropped one in from beyond the arc making it 43-39 UNC just over four minutes in. But it was back and forth once again after that and with under five minutes to play Clemson trailed by eleven. Cue Aamir Simms.
The junior forward came through with key blocks stunting UNC’s momentum and then at the two minute mark, trailing 68-58, Simms kicked it into another gear. After a Hunter Tyson three, Simms added a layup, free throw, and a triple of his own. At :34 they were down by just one. UNC responded with two Smith free throws to make it 70-67.
With time running out Simms got open from the left wing, draining a three to tie it up with three seconds on the clock sending the game into overtime. Bourret said as good as Simms was in the comeback, head coach Brad Brownell deserves credit as well for applying the pressure late in the half.
“He kind of threw a press at North Carolina inside the last few minutes. North Carolina only had seven turnovers in the first 38 minutes of that game then had three inside the last two minutes.”
Clemson finished regulation on a 12-2 run, with Simms accounting for nine of those points, as a deafening silence filled the Dean E. Smith Center.
John Newman and Hunter Tyson got the Tigers going early to start overtime giving them a 74-70 lead in the first two minutes.
But UNC wouldn’t go down easy, tying it up at the 1:54 mark 74-74.
The Tigers hung tough down the stretch. A Clyde Trapp lay-in was followed by a Curran Scott free throw. With under a minute left it was 77-74 Clemson. Bacot answered, bringing the Tar Heels within one with 36 seconds remaining. Simms responded with a layup putting the Tigers back in front, 79-76. Only a few seconds remained.
And on a night where he scored a career-high 27 points, Brandon Smith missed a last-second desperation heave from downtown sealing the victory for Clemson. Brownell couldn’t hide the emotions of a near-century long drought coming to an end as he raised his hands in the air as Newman ran over to give his coach a hug.
“I had been to 32 of the 59 previously, so it was terrific to see,” said Bourret. “You kind of had a feeling it would be something dramatic if you’re going to end a streak of that magnitude.”
With all the history surrounding that moment it was only fitting that the victory gave Brownell his 177th win, tying him with Cliff Ellis for most wins by a Clemson coach.
“It was amazing for Brad Brownell to beat a Hall Of Fame coach Roy Williams to tie the Clemson record for career wins,” said Bourret. “And then he broke the record the very next game by beating Mike Krzyzewski and Duke, another Hall Of Fame coach who just happens to be the winningest coach in the history of college basketball.”
The Tigers finished the season 16-15 (9-11) with the cancellation of the ACC and NCAA tournaments.
But the 2019-20 Clemson Tigers will forever be known as the team that ended the drought in Chapel Hill.
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