North Carolina's players tried to say they weren't worried about their 52-game home winning streak versus Clemson, that Sunday's matchup was just another ACC game against another league foe.
But after coming back from a 15-point, second-half deficit to force two overtimes and exhaustingly top the Tigers 103-93 -- all without starting point guard Ty Lawson -- All-America forward Tyler Hansbrough finally admitted the opposite was true.
"I wanted it really bad,'' said Hansbrough, who scored 13 of his game-high 39 points after regulation at the Smith Center. "To be honest, I didn't really want to break the streak here; I didn't want to be on the team that did it…Us not giving up is what won us the game."
Indeed, lesser teams might have succumbed early, when the No. 3 Tar Heels (22-2, 7-2 ACC) committed turnovers on their first six possessions. Or at halftime, when they trailed by their largest deficit (45-34) since February 2006. Or with about three minutes left in regulation, when they whittled a 15-point deficit to as little as eight points, only to have a James Mays bucket push it to double figures (79-68) again.
Sixth-man Danny Green (14 points), though, said he knew his team had time to make a comeback -- and coach Roy Williams said the rest of the team started believing it, too, after Green buried back-to-back 3-pointers to cut UNC's deficit to 82-80 with 36 seconds left in regulation.
Senior Quentin Thomas -- starting his second straight game in place of Lawson -- was next to get the crowd roaring, tying it 82-82 with 26 seconds left on a drive to the basket to send it to the first overtime. He was responsible for forcing the second five-minute extra period, too, burying two free throws to knot it 90-90 with 38 seconds left in the first overtime.
"Quentin came through for us in some big situations - being a senior, being a leader, really stepping up,'' Hansbrough said.
Hansbrough stepped up in the second overtime. His jumper gave UNC a 92-90 advantage. Two free throws by Hansbrough pushed it to 94-90. Then, with less than two minutes left, he knocked the ball loose from Clemson's David Potter near midcourt, ran it down, and was eventually fouled, again. Those two free throws gave his team a 98-93 cushion. Then a driving layup by Wayne Ellington -- who swished out of his shooting slump in a big way, with 28 points -- sealed it as the crowd began chanting, "You can't win here!"
"If I live to be 106, I won't be any more proud of a group of kids than I am of that bunch right here,'' said Williams. He added that the victory reminded him of his team's nine-point comeback against Duke in 2005, but "this one may be even wilder. We were looking at a 30-point butt-kicking with about five or six minutes left in the game."
Clemson's Raymond Sykes (12) defends as North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough shoots during the first half. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Danny Green #14 of the North Carolina Tar Heels lays in a basket past Trevor Booker #35 of the Clemson Tigers during the first half. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
North Carolina's Wayne Ellington, left, drives the ball upcourt as Clemson's K.C. Rivers defends during the first half . (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)