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January 6, 2008CLEMSON, S.C. - Of Wayne Ellington's career-high 36 points, none were sweeter than the last three.
"I knew I had to get that up," Ellington said. "It felt good leaving my hands. I knew if it got there, it was going in."
Ellington's game-winner was the Tar Heels' only basket in the period and gave UNC its first overtime win since 2000, while pushing the team's record this season to 15-0.
For Ellington, the shot was also another step toward forgetting the last-minute miss against Georgetown in last season's NCAA Regional final that sent the Tar Heels home instead of to the Final Four.
"I've been waiting for that shot," Ellington said. "I felt good. I was confident."
UNC coach Roy Williams was glad to see Ellington get an open look after watching his sophomore guard take an ugly shot near the end of regulation with the game tied at 81.
Clemson (12-2, 0-1 in the ACC) missed several put-back attempts at the other end, and the game went to overtime.
"It wasn't a pretty basketball game, but it was a game between two teams that fought really, really hard," Williams said. "Needless to say, we feel very fortunate."
UNC big man Tyler Hansbrough didn't have his best performance, with Clemson holding him to 12 points on 3-for-7 shooting.
Hansbrough knew that taking him out of the game would be the Tigers' focus and said it was the most physical game he's been in all season.
"They've got athletes that make it difficult (to get the ball inside)," Williams said. "They get around in front of him."
Clemson, led by K.C. Rivers' 24 points, held a seven-point advantage with less than three minutes to play, and the orange-clad crowd was in a frenzy, sensing the upset.
But Ellington and Danny Green hit back-to-back 3-pointers, and a Hansbrough free-throw with a minute left tied the game, erasing the Tar Heels' largest second-half deficit of the season.
"Going on the road, you can't get behind like that," Hansbrough said. "We had a sense of urgency toward the end."
Twice during timeouts, Williams told his players that he loved the scenario, seeing how they would respond to pressure.
"We needed one of these," Green said. "It's always good to come out with a win in a tight game. It's a wake-up call. Thankfully things worked out for us."
During regulation, Clemson took a page out of the Tar Heels' book, scoring 27 points off turnovers and actually scoring more points on the fast break than Carolina.
But ineptitude at the line killed the Tigers, who came into the game as the worst free-throw shooting team in the ACC.
They missed 13 of 27 free throws in the game, including seven in the second half and overtime.
"We have a very disappointed locker room," Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. "Our guys realize we let one get away against a good team. We had a good working lead in the last five or six minutes but couldn't convert our free throws and turned it over. We have to close the deal."
Closing the deal was probably what the Tar Heels were most proud of after the game.
They knew it wasn't their best performance. But it was a win against a quality team, in a tough building with a hostile crowd.
Just the kind of test they were waiting for.
"We're going to have games like this down the road," Green said. "When a team plays us tough, we're going to know what to do."