CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- Harrison Barnes must really like the color orange.
The North Carolina sophomore small forward brings out his best whenever the Tar Heels take on Clemson. And in the fourth installment of Barnes versus the Tigers on Saturday afternoon at the Smith Center, the "Black Falcon" soared, like he did in the first three meetings.
Barnes put on an impressive display scoring 24 points, grabbing seven rebounds and showing increased aggressiveness in UNC's 74-52 victory. After the game, the Carolina star admitted what had become quite apparent.
"I don't know, man, I always have good games against them," he said, referring to the Tigers. "Ever since they came here, at their place, (Clemson forward) Milton Jennings returned the favor to me today. I just love playing Clemson."
In his first of three meetings against the Tigers, all of which occurred last season, Barnes totaled 13 points, but hit the go-ahead basket in a 10-point Carolina victory. He then scored 20 in a 64-62 win at Littlejohn Coliseum, and in the ACC Tournament, Barnes poured in a career-high 40 points on 12-for-17 shooting.
Reminded after that game that BYU's Jimmer Fredette, the nation's leading scorer and eventual National Player of the year, scored 52 the night before, but on 32 field goal attempts, Barnes smiled and responded with a simple word, "efficiency."
Barnes was fairly efficient Saturday. He drilled half of his 18 field goal attempts, but he did manage three turnovers. It was a sluggish day at times for the Tar Heels, though, and when Carolina broke free from whatever was shackling it some in the first half, Barnes was there leading the way.
On a couple of occasions, the game was challenging enough that UNC ran some specific plays to get Barnes looks. One paid off, the other almost did. But the consciousness of Barnes' appetite for the ball more and more was obliged by his coach. That's a darn good sign if baby blue runs through your veins.
"We have a couple of sets where we try to clear space for him to allow him to do that," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "He does have an ability to put the ball on the floor a little bit. He's almost 6-foot-8, and so when you have that ability to put it on the floor and shoot the basketball like he does, I think you have good things like that happen."
In UNC's last five games, Barnes is averaging just below 21 points and right at seven rebounds. Barnes said he and Williams have a secret bet that has to do with him grabbing 10 rebounds in a game. He won't divulge what happens to the loser each game, but smiled and acknowledged it's on the up and up.
"By contract, I can't say," Barnes joked.
But his play against Clemson hasn't been a joke, and the trajectory of his performances has become a serious boon to North Carolina's recent ascent. Blown late lead against Duke aside, the Tar Heels have closed out their last four victories in impressive fashion.
Barnes is a major reason why. Once a bit passive, now he's assertive and is better using his immense physical strength. Then again, seeing Clemson's orange might to him might enlist the same reaction in Barnes that spinach did for Peopeye.
"He's a great player, and we don't have a guy that's his size that matches up very well," Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. "You've got so many guys you're trying to stop, it's hard to do a good job on him."
The proof has been in the performances.