CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — PJ Hall had 25 points along with the go-ahead putback with 3:14 left as Clemson survived a blown 16-point lead to stun No. 3 North Carolina 80-76 on Tuesday night, earning a marquee win for a team battling to improve its NCAA tournament chances.
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. That was part of a 7-0 spurt that provided just enough cushion as 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, fueled by Hall’s strong showing after struggling in last month’s home loss (10 points on 4-for-13 shooting).
Clemson has only one other road win vs. an AP top-three opponent in program history: Jan. 1976 vs. No. 2 Maryland.
Hall hit two free throws with 4.6 seconds left, sealing a win that had Ian Schieffelin (14 points, 11 rebounds) joining several Tigers players waving goodbye to the UNC crowd while skipping their way to the tunnel after the horn.
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.
It was a fitting outcome, considering how the Tigers carried the action from the opening sequences. 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 into the game.
The Tigers kept that margin at double figures for much of the first half, pushing to their biggest lead at 41-25 on Jack Clark’s layup with 2:31 left before the break.
The Tar Heels gradually climbed back in it, repeatedly getting within one or two possessions. Harrison Ingram came through with a contested corner 3-pointer at the 4:17 mark to tie the game at 70, but the Tar Heels never could overtake the Tigers.
This game represented a major opportunity for the Tigers when it comes to improving their footing for the NCAA tournament. Ranked No. 39 by KenPom and sitting at 37th in the NET, the Tigers were 3-4 in the Quadrant 1 games that top a postseason résumé, including against No. 16 Alabama in November. But there were only two Q1 opportunities left on the schedule with this game and a trip to 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 outside of Bacot 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.