The UNC Tar Heels will host the Clemson Tigers on Tuesday, January 16th, 2018 in the Dean E. Smith Center on the Carolina campus. The game will mark the 59th meeting between the two teams when playing in Chapel Hill. Carolina has won all 58 of the previous Chapel Hill games, an NCAA record for the longest winning streak against a single opponent. Morton Collection volunteer Jack Hilliard offers a look back at the Clemson streak of frustration.
The Clemson frustration in never having won in Chapel Hill was summed up by Clemson Head Coach Rick Barnes following his loss in 1997. When asked in the Clemson locker room after the game by a reporter, who obviously didn’t know Coach Barnes very well: How do you explain your program’s head-shaking losing streak in Chapel Hill? Said Barnes, “If you really need an explanation, take you’re a– out there and look up at the rafters.”
It all started on Friday, January 15th, 1926, in a metal-constructed arena on the UNC campus called the Indoor Athletic Court (It would become known as the “Tin Can.”) UNC’s “White Phantoms” (as the basketball team was often called in those days) beat Clemson College by thirty points, 50-20. The student newspaper, “The Daily Tar Heel” called the point spread a “massacre.”
While the Carolina band blared the note of “Hark the Sound” and “Here Comes Carolina,” the Tar Heel tossers took the court and limbered up for the massacre.
Seven seasons would pass before the two teams met in Chapel Hill again, in 1934. This time Carolina won by twelve, with a final score of 38-26 as 2,500 fans packed the “Tin Can” to open the 1933-34 season.
The game on January 3rd, 1936 was the closest game to date in the Chapel Hill series. Carolina won 24-23 in the final game played in the “Tin Can.”
When the two teams met in Chapel Hill for the fourth meeting in the series on February 1st, 1938, Carolina was hosting in Woollen Gym with a 44-34 win. UNC would host and win the three games of the 1940s by double digits, winning the 1943 game by twenty, 52-32.
Clemson played twice at Chapel Hill during Morton’s years as a UNC student photographer. Only once—UNC’s 47-30 win on February 19, 1940—when he would have been able to photograph the game. Neither the student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, nor the nor the yearbook, The Yackety Yak, published a photograph from the game. The second Clemson visit to Woollen Gym was on February 2, 1943, but Morton enlisted in the United States Army during the autumn of 1942 and only came back to campus to photograph for the yearbook on one occasion in October 1942.
Clemson traveled to Chapel Hill twice in 1952. Saturday, January 5th, 1952 marked the eighth meeting between the two with another UNC win 65 to 59. The following season, on December 10th, 1952 the series played out in Woollen Gym with a Tar Heel win, 82-55. It would be UNC head coach Tom Scott’s only Carolina–Clemson game in Chapel Hill.
When Clemson came into Chapel Hill on December 19th, 1953, the two teams were now members of the newly formed Atlantic Coast Conference and Carolina’s new head coach Frank McGuire led his Tar Heels to a thirty-seven-point-victory, 85-48—the largest point difference in the series to date.
A thirty-three-point win in 1954 and a fifteen-point win in ’55 set the table for the famous 1956-57 championship season, which included a McGuire led Tar Heel win 86-54 on January 11th, 1957.
When Clemson came into Woollen Gym for the fourteenth meeting, on December 7th, 1957, something had been added. Television producer C.D. Chesley had brought in his TV cameras for the first regular season ACC game ever and Carolina came away with a 79-55 win.
Coach McGuire and his Tar Heels met Clemson one more time in Chapel Hill during his time as coach, an 83-67 win on December 3rd, 1958.
On January 3rd, 1961, new Head Coach Dean Smith led Carolina to a 77-46 win—the first of twenty-eight Chapel Hill wins over Clemson during his Tar Heel tenure. The Heels won by sixteen in 1962, and when Clemson came into Chapel Hill on December 1st, 1964 for the eighteenth meeting, they were no longer called Clemson College but were called Clemson University—but continued the losing streak, 77-59.
Coach Smith led his Tar Heels to double digit wins, in 1966, 1968 and 1971. Photographer Hugh Morton was in place in Carmichael Auditorium (now called Carmichael Arena), for Carolina’s 1971 win, 92-72. Surprisingly, it was Morton’s first coverage of a UNC–Clemson contest on a UNC basketball court.
When the two met in Chapel Hill for the twenty-second time on January 10th, 1973, Tar Heel broadcaster Woody Durham, “The Voice of the Tar Heels,” was in place for his first Carolina vs. Clemson-Tar Heel home game, a 92-58 Carolina win. Woody would do play-by-play for the next 33 Carolina – Clemson games in Chapel Hill.
The games in 1974 and 1975 were one and two point wins respectfully for the Heels. A fifteen-point-win in 1976 and a thirty-four-point-win in 1978 preceded another close one in 1980, 73-70.
The game on February 21st, 1981, saw the Heels win by fourteen, 75-61.
Carolina’s 1982 National Championship team beat Clemson 77-72 on January 27th, 1982 on their way to the national title. Tar Heel legend Michael Jordan played his first of two games against Clemson in Chapel Hill, scoring 14 points.
The wins in 1983 and ’85 closed out the era in Carmichael, and Hugh Morton was there for that last meeting on February 23rd, 1985—a thirty-four-point-victory, 84-50.
The Carolina vs. Clemson game on February 1st, 1986 was the first Chapel Hill meeting between the two in the Dean E. Smith Student Activity Center (often called the “Dean Dome”). Hugh Morton was there for this UNC-Clemson game as well as the next four meeting between the two, which included a thirty-six-point win in 1988 and Carolina’s first 100-point effort in the series on February 25th, 1989, 100-86.
Two double-digit wins, in 1990 and 1991, were followed by another 100+ effort on January 9th, 1992, 103-69.
Carolina’s 1992-93 National Championship run contained a thirteen-point-win, 80-67 on February 17th, 1993 before 21,147 in the Smith Center. The ‘93 NCAA Championship would be Coach Dean Smith’s second national title.
The game number forty meeting in January, 1994, was a 44-point-winner, 106-62…Carolina’s largest victory margin of the Chapel Hill series.
Coach Smith closed out his career with double-digit-wins in ’95, ’96, and ’97 with Hugh Morton shooting from courtside at each game. Smith’s January 26th, 1997 win over Clemson was listed by UNC basketball author and historian Adam Lucas as the eighth top game in Smith Center history.
Bill Guthridge, Dean Smith’s assistant from 1967 until 1997, took over the head coaching duties beginning with the 1997–98 season. Coach Guthridge managed three wins over Clemson in Chapel Hill: 1998, 1999, and 2000.
When Clemson arrived in Chapel Hill on January 17th, 2001 for game number forty-seven in the series, new Tar Heel head coach Matt Doherty was in place and led the Heels to a twenty-seven-point-win, 92-65. Coach Doherty would add two more Chapel Hill wins over Clemson in 2002 and 2003.
Current UNC Head Coach Roy Williams was on board for the fiftieth Carolina – Clemson-Chapel Hill meeting on March 2nd, 2004 and continued the winning ways with a 69-53 victory.
When the fifty-first meeting took place on February 19th, 2005, Carolina was on the way to another NCAA Championship. That ’05 win was a thirty-two-point-blowout, 88-56. Coach Williams continued the winning streak with a 76-61 win on February 4th, 2006.
Although game number fifty-three on February 10th, 2008 was a ten-point winner, it was much closer than the final score might indicate. At the end of regulation, the score was tied at 82. After overtime number one it was 90-90. And finally the Tar Heels were able to pull out the 103-93 win in the second overtime. All-American Tyler Hansbrough led the way with 39 points and 13 rebounds.
The twenty-four-point-win on January 21st, 2009 was once again a stepping stone to a national title. Recent games fifty-five through fifty-eight have been double-digit wins for Coach Williams and his Tar Heels. And that brings us to tonight’s fifty-ninth meeting between Clemson and Carolina in Chapel Hill. Whoever wins game 59 . . . the streaks will continue or new ones will begin.
Corrections and clarifications
With the 87-79 UNC victory against Clemson on 21 January 2018, the streak did continue. After the game we reviewed this post in light of the 1952 game-day program having been added to illustrate the article, and we discovered a few mistakes. On February 5th, we made the following changes:
- The phrase “UNC’s 47-30 win on February 19th” omitted the year, which was 1940.
- Sources consulted had not listed the December 8, 1956 game as having been played in Charlotte, so we rewrote the sentence, “A thirty-three-point-win in 1954 and a fifteen-point-win in ’55, set up two Tar Heel wins heading into that famous 1956-57 NCAA Championship season when McGuire let the Heels to two more Chapel Hill wins over Clemson, 94-75 on December 8th, 1956 and 86-54 on January 11th, 1957.” The sentence now only mentions the game played in Chapel Hill on January 11, 1957.
- Clarified the phrase “Carolina’s first 100 point effort on February 25th, 1989, 100-86” to reflect it was the first “in the series,” not the first ever.
- Corrected the game day for 2008 played on February 10th, not January 10th.
- Corrected the game day for 2009 played on January 21st, not January 9th.
- Corrected some typographical errors.