CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Someday, somehow, “The Streak” will end.
But not Saturday. Not against this seventh-ranked North Carolina team.
Maybe never as long as Harrison Barnes is here.
The sophomore forward scored 24 points to push UNC’s home winning streak over Clemson to 56, dating back to 1926. The Tar Heels’ 74-52 victory at the Smith Center means the Tigers still have never won in Chapel Hill.
“I always seem to have good games against them,” said Barnes, who now has averaged 24.2 points in four career games against the Tigers. “… It must be the orange. My high school colors were orange, and it must give me that confidence.”
Like he needs it.
Barnes – even playing on a 90-percent-healed sprained ankle – has been more aggressive lately. UNC’s leading scorer has been pounding the backboards more (he had 7 rebounds Saturday), looking to create more shots, connecting when the Tar Heels need those buckets the most.
“I think Harrison is being the player that everybody tried to make him out to be a year and a half ago. He’s becoming that player now,’’ said UNC point guard Kendall Marshall, who finished with 4 points and 13 assists. “That’s not to insult his game at all; I think players just grow into that.”
Usually more of a second-half scorer, Barnes got started early this time against the Tigers, scoring UNC’s first two buckets to cut Clemson’s early lead to 7-4. He then scored a couple of 3-pointers during a 21-4 first-half run.
And after the Tigers cut their deficit to six points with about 12 minutes left in the second half, Barnes scored four points, pulled down a rebound and swiped two steals as UNC pushed its lead back to 11.
"You've got to get North Carolina to a point where they can get a little nervous," Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. "You've got to get it to five minutes or six minutes in the game and it's a couple of possessions, and then you've got a chance. But we couldn't get it."
Barnes made sure of it.
Before he left the game, for good, with 1:31 left, the preseason ACC player of the year beat the buzzer with another 3-pointer. That gave the Tar Heels a 22-point advantage.
It also kept UNC tied atop the ACC standings with No. 21 Florida State at 10-2. With only four regular-season games left, Barnes said both he and his team have a new sense of urgency – which is why he’s been working harder to expand his game.
“No question, this is it, this is what you play for, this is what you come to college basketball for,’’ he said. “You’re preparing for March Madness. And if you go out there on the court these last two or three games, and you don’t leave it all out there, you’re cheating yourself and you’re cheating your teammates.
“This is what your season is going to be defined as, is these coming games, so we have to leave it out there."
But it was Barnes, who buried the go-ahead shots in the final five minutes of all three of UNC’s victories over the Tigers last season, who led the effort to leave Clemson with a bitter outcome in Chapel Hill.
“I’m sure he’s averaging 18 or 20 against everyone else, so I’m not sure it’s that skewed [when he plays against us],’’ Brownell said of Barnes’ scoring. “He’s just a great player. We don’t have a guy that’s his size that matches up very well, and you have so many guys that you’re trying to stop that it’s hard to do a good job on him. And certainly he rose to the occasion last year in the ACC tournament [when he scored 40 points in the Heels' semifinal victory], and he made plays today.”
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.