CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Brad Brownell kept telling his Clemson players that they were a better team than their results had shown so far with their NCAA tournament hopes in question.
Taking down No. 3 North Carolina on the road for only the second time in program history certainly helps drive home that message.
PJ Hall had 25 points along with the go-ahead putback with 3:14 left as the Tigers stunned the Tar Heels 80-76 on Tuesday night, earning a marquee win despite blowing a 16-point lead.
“We just held on,” Brownell said, adding: “But our guys finished, which was really nice to see.”
Joseph Girard III added 21 points for the Tigers (15-7, 5-6 ACC), including a huge 3-pointer at the 2:09 mark to follow Hall’s basket. The Tigers never trailed yet had to fight to the final seconds to secure the win against the Tar Heels (18-5, 10-2), who were coming off an emotional rivalry win against No. 9 Duke three days earlier.
The Tar Heels’ past two games after beating Duke are now a home loss to Clemson as a 6.5-point favorite, and a loss to Kansas in the national championship game in April 2022, where UNC blew a 15-point halftime lead.
Clemson lost its first 59 games in Chapel Hill before breaking through in 2020 for an overtime win. Now the Tigers have won two of three trips here since. This one comes after the Tigers had lost three of five by a combined five points, including a 72-71 loss at Duke with the Tigers a second away from their first win at Cameron Indoor Stadium since 1995.
“Just keep playing, man,” Hall said of Brownell’s message. “Keep playing, believe in ourselves, believe we’re a good team and know the guy beside you wants to win just as much as you.”
When the game was over, Ian Schieffelin (14 points, 11 rebounds) joined several Tigers players waving goodbye to the UNC crowd as they skipped their way into the tunnel.
Clemson has only one other road win vs. an AP top-three opponent in program history: Jan. 1976 vs. No. 2 Maryland.
Armando Bacot had 24 points and 13 rebounds, his 78th career double-double, to lead UNC. He inched closes to Ralph Sampson (84) for the second most in ACC history. RJ Davis added 22 points, and with his 17th point of the night (first free throw with 6:30 left), he reached 1,789 career points, passing Michael Jordan for the 15th-most points in North Carolina history.
But the Tar Heels shot just 36.9% and made 9 of 27 3-pointers in a clunker of a follow-up to beating the Blue Devils.
It was a fitting outcome, considering how the Tigers carried the action from tip. The Tigers hit their first five shots and rolled to a 15-2 lead on Hall’s 3-pointer that had UNC coach Hubert Davis burning a timeout less than 3½ minutes in.
“It’s not about Xs and Os, there’s nothing from a basketball standpoint we can talk about until the energy and effort and enthusiasm rises,” Hubert Davis said of that timeout message.
This game represented a major opportunity for Clemson. Ranked No. 39 by KenPom and sitting at 37th in the NET, the Tigers were 3-4 in Quadrant 1 games that top a postseason résumé, including against No. 16 Alabama in November. This was huge, especially with only one Q1 opportunity left from here (at Wake Forest on March 9)
The Tar Heels, meanwhile, didn’t have top reserve Seth Trimble due to an upper-body injury, and the most of the regulars struggled offensively. Davis needed 22 shots to get his output and banked in a meaningless 3-pointer on UNC’s final possession, while fellow starter Cormac Ryan managed two points on 1-for-10 shooting.
ESPN Stats & Information and The Associated Press contributed to this report.