Clemson's Demontez Stitt has enjoyed his games so far against No. 12 North Carolina, all except for the losing part.
Stitt, then a freshman, was thrilled two years ago facing the Tar Heel team he grew up dreaming about to play for as a high schooler in Matthews, N.C. Stitt nearly got even a bigger thrill as the Tigers came close to breaking their long losing streak against North Carolina, falling in overtime at Littlejohn Coliseum, dropping a double OT game at Chapel Hill, then losing 86-81 in that season's Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship game.A loss at North Carolina in 2009's only meeting -- Clemson is 0-54 all-time there -- ran the Tigers series losing streak to 10. Now, No. 24 Clemson (13-3, 1-1 ACC) gets its latest and perhaps best shot in years at toppling the Tar Heels (12-4, 1-0) when the teams meet Wednesday night.All the Tar Heels' losses this year have come away from home and the Tigers are eager to show they can compete with anyone in the ACC."I see guys are focused in practice and in the locker room, guys know the tradition of (North) Carolina and what they're capable of," Stitt said. "So the focus, the intensity, the energy has to be a lot higher than for any game we've played so far."It looks like the fans' intensity is already sky high.Stitt says several tents have sprung up outside chilly Littlejohn, students making sure they secure tickets for the sold-out contest. Both teams come off bounce-back victories: Clemson over Boston College last Saturday after getting drubbed at Duke a game earlier, and the Tar Heels taking their ACC opener over Virginia Tech after blowing an 11-point lead and losing in overtime 82-79 at College of Charleston.Both are hopeful to keep that momentum flowing in front of an ESPN audience."We want to show the whole nation what Clemson basketball's all about," Tiger freshman swing man Noel Johnson said.That's a question both squads might have trouble answering.Clemson has had some bumps so far this season. The Tigers held a 23-point lead at home in the second half to Illinois and wound up losing 76-74. They scored just 12 points by the half last Sunday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium and fell to the Top 10 Blue Devils 74-53.Tiger coach Oliver Purnell mostly likes what he's seen from his team so far. Clemson has struggled at times on defense as it blends its four first-year players into the rotation. Tiger star Trevor Booker can't get locked out underneath and must stay active against North Carolina's tall front line of 6-foot-9 Deon Thompson, 6-10 Ed Davis and 7-foot Tyler Zeller among others.Booker was held to 10 points in the Duke loss, then rebounded for 19 against Boston College.Purnell's glad Clemson stuck to its gameplan against the Eagles and is confident the Tigers can do the same against North Carolina."Just play Clemson basketball, and play it well," the coach said. "When we have done that this year we have been a pretty good basketball team. The few moments we haven't done that, we've struggled."The Tar Heels have had their early season struggles, too. Their four losses are already as many as a year ago. North Carolina, though, returned injured players Will Graves and Marcus Ginyard against the Hokies and both should play in this one, too.Coach Roy Williams said the Virginia Tech win was a confidence boost for his team, which looked like it was finding its form."We certainly feel better than we did after our last game at the College of Charleston, there's no doubt about that," Williams said.Purnell counseled his players not to dwell too much on North Carolina's loss to the Cougars. A couple of weeks earlier, Clemson handed Charleston its worst loss in 47 years, 94-55. No one in the Tigers' locker room thinks they're 42 points better than anyone, Stitt says, particularly not North Carolina."These guys are good, defending national champions," said Stitt, Clemson's guard. "We know what we have to do to win this game."