Ellington’s shot saves top-ranked Tar Heels

Published 10:33 pm Monday, January 7, 2008

By By PETE IACOBELLI, AP Sports Writer
CLEMSON, S.C. — What a way for No. 1 North Carolina to start the Atlantic Coast Conference season.
Wayne Ellington’s 3-pointer with 0.4 seconds left in overtime lifted the top-ranked Tar Heels to a 90-88 victory over 19th-ranked Clemson on Sunday night.
Ellington finished with a career-high 36 points, none more dramatic than his jumper from the left side of the key with the clock winding down.
The Tar Heels leaped from the bench as Ellington pumped his fist in celebration.
Only moments earlier, Clemson freshman Demontez Stitt had hit two foul shots with 13.9 seconds to go that put the Tigers ahead, 88-87.
Instead, Ellington’s basket sent the Tar Heels (15-0) out of Littlejohn Coliseum with their seventh straight win over Clemson — and their top ranking in tact.
Ellington scored seven of North Carolina’s nine points in overtime. The sophomore surpassed his career high of 23 set earlier this season in a win over Ohio State.
K.C. Rivers led Clemson (12-2) with 24 points, but failed to score in overtime. Trevor Booker added 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Ty Lawson had 16 points and Tyler Hansbrough added 12 for North Carolina.
Clemson looked like it had the game won in regulation when Hammonds drove the lane uncontested by the Tar Heels to give the Tigers an 81-74 lead with 2:37 to go.
But North Carolina wasn’t done.
Ellington nailed a 3-pointer and Danny Green followed with another to cut things to 81-80. Hansbrough, an 81 percent foul shooter this season, stood at the line with two shots, but missed the first before tying the game.
Ellington put up a straightaway 3-pointer from the top of the key that bounced off with 14 seconds left — and gave Clemson a chance at victory.
The Tigers got three shots at the basket in the final seconds, but couldn’t convert.
Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said win or lose, his club would use this game as a measuring stick for the rest of the ACC season.
The Tigers look as close as ever.
Their fans certainly were prepared. Decked out in orange T-shirts with Purnell’s face and the words ‘‘Oliver Purnell’s Posse,’’ the sold-out crowd kept things raucous throughout.
The Tar Heels hadn’t been in a nailbiter in weeks. They won their previous four games by an average of 33 points, but went nonstop after Clemson much of the opening half.
Purnell said his staff put a stopwatch on how quickly Lawson brings the ball up on a possession — a little over 2 seconds — and North Carolina’s point guard kept running it up into the Clemson defense.
Clemson’s defenders did not back down (the Tigers finished with 11 blocks) and the pace took its toll.
By the last five minutes of the opening half, players from both teams spent breaks with their hands on their knees and mouths wide open to catch their breaths.
The Tar Heels and Tigers, each ranked in the top half of the ACC in shooting percentage, both were under 40 percent for the first 20 minutes.
North Carolina was up 38-34 on Green’s basket with two minutes to go. But Clemson scored the half’s final 7 points, capped by Rivers’ short jumper with 9.7 seconds remaining, to lead 41-38 at the break.