It led to a heated sideline exchange between coaches Dean Smith and Rick Barnes and into a near-brawl between the teams at the end of the Tar Heels' 78-62 victory.
The fireworks started with 3:10 left and North Carolina comfortably ahead. After Jerry Stackhouse was fouled by Clemson's Iker Iturbe going in for a layup, Smith pointed at the Tigers center and appear to yell something at him.
That led to Barnes' charging down the sideline at Smith. The two coaches were separated by officials.
"I said to the ref: 'I want you to bring him down here. I want you to hear what I'm going to say to him.' I told him, 'You coach your team and I'll coach my team,' " said Barnes, who wound up getting a technical foul. "I said, 'You don't have any right talking to my players.' "
Said Smith: "Where I was wrong was to point a finger at a player. I've done that three times in my career, but in each instance, I don't want my player getting hurt because of a hard foul."
Smith said that he noticed in watching tape of Clemson that Iturbe had what the Tar Heels coach thought was a propensity to commit hard fouls. Though one writer tried to get Smith to call Iturbe a "dirty" player, Smith said that he played "like a European player."
Said Stackhouse: "Things got a little heated. Those things happen. I don't think it was anything personal. Just some things got out of hand."
But the verbal jousting and finger-pointing between Smith and Barnes only served as the undercard for the players. What had happened during the regular season, when Smith had questioned the aggressive style Barnes had brought from Providence, only fueled the situation last night.
"I think it had an effect," said Smith.
With 1:44 remaining, Stackhouse and Clemson guard Billy Harder struggled to gain control of a loose ball, with the Tar Heels forward forearming Harder to the ground. Stackhouse was called for a technical foul, which appeared to be a makeup for Smith's not getting called for one earlier.
Then, as time was ticking down, Donald Williams of North Carolina went for a game-ending lob dunk. He missed, but was shoved by Harder, who got into separate shouting matches with Williams and Tar Heels reserve Pat Sullivan before nearly getting into a fight with another reserve, Shammond Williams. Both teams came onto the floor before being separated by security.
"He just went up under me," said Williams.
Asked what he told Barnes after the game, Smith said, "I shook his hand and he shook mine."
In the interview afterward, Barnes asked with a smile, "Anybody want to talk about the game?"
% There were no takers.