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Clemson's James Mays, all alone in the open, court, hauled in a pass, took a monster step and threw down a dunk to open the game.

When Tyler Hansbrough turned to inbound the ball, there was orange everywhere.

Taking advantage of Ty Lawson's second straight missed game, Clemson (17-6, 5-4 ACC) threw on a full-court press, roared out of the locker room and stormed to the biggest lead the No. 3 Tar Heels have faced all season.

Which only made for a bigger comeback.

Without leading at any point during regulation, the Tar Heels used every second possible - plus two overtime periods - to claw back from a barrage of punches and a 14-point deficit, then ran away late for a 103-93 win.

"They hit us right between the eyes, and we backed off," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "We got so timid and tentative with everything."

In a game every bit as heart-pounding, nerve-wracking and adrenaline-fueled as the first meeting between the two teams this season, the Tar Heels struggled to recover from their woozy opening minutes for the rest of the game.

Then senior Quentin Thomas drove to the hoop.

His soft layup sank through the net with 26 seconds left in the second half, and the Tar Heels had finally rallied to tie the game at 82-82, closing a gap of nine points in the final three minutes.

But the theatrics were just getting started when Clemson's K.C. Rivers missed a scoop layup to keep the score knotted and send the game into overtime.

From there, it was a mix of clutch 3-pointers, foul-outs and pressure-packed free throws as the two teams passed the lead back and forth.

Throughout all the madness, the one constant was Hansbrough.

The power forward finished with 39 points, nailed 17 of 19 free throws and put the Tar Heels (22-2, 7-2) on his back with his clutch play, especially in extra time.

"When he leaves, I am going to consider myself the luckiest guy in the world to have coached him," Williams said of the UNC junior.

Not all of Hansbrough's damage was done in his usual home under the hoop. He helped break the press, drove to the hoop and hit a free-throw line jump shot to open the second overtime.

And his biggest play of all came on the defensive end, when he pressured Clemson's David Potter, poked the ball away and pounced on it to preserve a thin Tar Heel lead.

"I was in a dead sprint, felt pretty good about it and then dove," Hansbrough said.

Behind his effort, the Tar Heels ran their record to an astounding 53-0 against Clemson in Chapel Hill, which broke the NCAA record for the longest home winning streak by one team over another.

"To be honest, I didn't really want to break the streak here," Hansbrough said. "I don't want to be on that team."

Clemson played like a team possessed to change that history.

The Tigers attacked, trapped, pressed and muscled the Tar Heels for almost the entire game, trying to avenge a 90-88 overtime loss to UNC a month ago.

In the face of a shrieking Sunday night crowd, the Tigers got a heroic 31 points from Cliff Hammonds and clutch offensive rebounds from Trevor Booker, but just couldn't turn the tables on the Tar Heels.

For a UNC team still smarting from a home loss to Duke on Wednesday, the thrilling win was a helpful dose of relief.

"Coach says you can enjoy it until the clock hits (midnight)," Hansbrough said. "I think I'm going to enjoy this a little longer."

 

By: Gregg Found, Senior Writer

Issue date: 2/11/08 Section: Sports

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