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January 7, 2008

Clemson may shake bad luck reputation

On the surface, it looks like the same old story for Clemson. After another stellar start, the Tigers opened up ACC play with a 90-88 loss in overtime to No. 1-ranked North Carolina at home on Sunday night.

The Tigers (12-2, 0-1), who have become college basketball's poster boy for bad luck, began last season 17-0 before going on to lose a series of close ACC games and ultimately miss the NCAA Tournament. But there are reasons to believe this time things will be different.

The Tigers traded baskets for more than 40 minutes with North Carolina (15-0, 1-0), who entered the matchup as perhaps the nation's best and hottest team. The Tar Heels had won their last four games by an average of 33 points.

It was unlike the matchup between Clemson and UNC in Littlejohn Coliseum last season, which resulted in the Tar Heels rolling to an easy 77-55 win that ignited the Tigers' infamous tailspin.

UNC needed a remarkable performance from sophomore guard Wayne Ellington, who scored a career-high 36 points and hit a game-winning 3-pointer with 0.4 seconds left in overtime, to escape Littlejohn with a win this time.

The Tigers also managed to slow down UNC star Tyler Hansbrough, something only a handful of Tar Heel opponents have done over the last three seasons. Hansbrough finished with 12 points, 10 points below his season average, in 42 minutes.

That should lead to a confidence boost for the improved Tigers, who can build some momentum with their next three games at home versus Charlotte, Florida State and N.C. State.

Team of the Weekend: West Virginia

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins shocked everyone, including his own players, by installing a 1-3-1 zone for the Mountaineers' home game against No. 11-ranked Marquette on Saturday. It turned out to be a brilliant move, slowing down the Golden Eagles offense and keeping their quick guards away from the basket as the Mountaineers pulled off a 79-64 upset. Huggins, who normally sticks to man-to-man defense, was impressed with USC's use of the zone in their 55-52 loss to Memphis earlier this season. Huggins called Trojans coach Tim Floyd for tips. The Mountaineers also executed well offensively - four players scored in double figures.

What you might have missed
*It looks like Texas freshman power forward Gary Johnson, who was recently given clearance to play after sitting out the first two months of the season with a heart problem, will give the Longhorns another offensive weapon. Johnson made a difference in his second game on Saturday, scoring 15 points and grabbing six boards in the Longhorns' 81-62 win over St. Mary's.
*Former Georgia Tech guard Will Bynum was arrested Saturday in Jerusalem and accused of running over a man while leaving a fight in a night club. The injured man was in serious, but stable condition. Bynum, who had been playing professionally in Israel, played a major role in the Yellow Jackets' run to the 2004 national title game.
*Connecticut center Hasheem Thabeet blocked a career-high 10 shots in the Huskies' 73-67 loss to Notre Dame. Thabeet also scored eight points and grabbed nine boards.

Breakouts & Breakdowns

Breakout: Villanova freshman guard Malcolm Grant, the least-heralded member of a three-man recruiting class, came off the bench to score a career-high 22 points in Villanova's 64-63 win over Pittsburgh. Grant had scored just nine points in the previous three games.

Breakdown: The Stanford offense. The Cardinal shot just 27 percent from the field against USC their lowest percentage in more than eight years and had more than twice as many turnovers (20) as assists (eight). The Cardinal did still manage to win 52-46, thanks to superb defense. The Trojans committed 23 turnovers.

Breakout: Kansas senior Darnell Jackson, who has spent most of his career as a reserve, scored a career-high 25 points, grabbed nine rebounds and added two steals in Kansas' 85-60 rout of Boston College. Jackson was 7-for-8 from the free-throw line.

Breakdown: Syracuse freshman guard Antonio Jardine, who is starting in place of the injured Eric Devendorf, played his best game yet in the Orange's 89-77 win over South Florida. Jardine scored 14 points and set career-highs with eight assists and six rebounds.

Breakout: Senior Malik Hairston carried Oregon, which had lost three of its previous four games, to a much-needed 84-74 win over Arizona. Hairston scored a game-high 29 points and pulled down six rebounds. Hairston was 11 of 17 (64.7 percent) from the field.

Breakdown: Illinois' effort. The Illini have developed a reputation for toughness under coach Bruce Weber, but they played with little heart or hustle in a 68-64 loss to Penn State. Despite having a big size advantage, the Illini went more than 11 minutes without a rebound during one stretch and they were outrebounded 45-28. Senior Brian Randle, a team captain, fouled out in 14 minutes with just two points.

Top Performers
Shan Foster, Vanderbilt
32 points in Vanderbilt's 97-88 win over Massachusetts
Foster hit 8-of-12 3-pointers as the undefeated Commodores moved to a school-record 15-0.
Raymar Morgan, Michigan State
31 points, 10 rebounds in Spartans' 65-59 win over Minnesota.
Morgan went 9-for-12 (75 percent) from the free-throw line.
Kyle McAlarney, Notre Dame
32 points, five assists in Irish' 73-67 win over Connecticut.
McAlarney went 6 for 7 from 3-point range.
Kenny George, UNC-Asheville
16 points, 13 rebounds, three blocks in Bulldogs' 61-58 win over South Carolina.
This 7-foot-7 giant gave the Bulldogs a lead for good with a dunk in the final minute.
Jamar Butler, Ohio State
32 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists in 74-58 win over Illinois.
Butler went 8-of-8 from the free throw line and set a career-high in points.

Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.



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