CLEMSON - The Streak of 56 is one of those astounding, unbreakable, did-that-really-happen? records in all of sports.
Joe DiMaggio strode to the plate 56 straight games in 1941, and swatted a single, double, triple or home run for the New York Yankees.
That's mainly what the number represents. But for the last two years, it's also stood for one of the most incredible streaks in college basketball history.
Clemson visited Chapel Hill on Jan. 15, 1926, and North Carolina doubled up its guests 48-24, the highest point total scored that season against Clemson.
That was the first of 56 games the two teams have played with UNC serving as host, and the next time the Tigers return home victorious will be the first.
Clemson has conquered the hardwood in Chapel Hill ... never. Decades of fusion with the longest road drought against one team in the history of college hoops could be stopped in its tracks with 40 minutes of winning basketball Sunday at Dean Smith Center.
It doesn't resound quite as much as Joltin Joe's 56 at first blush, but the streaks are similar in difficulty.
In the history of baseball, five men have 40-game hit streaks, most recently Pete Rose in 1978. Seven others have topped 35; three of them since the turn of the century. Ty Cobb turned it twice, six years apart in the 1910s, and George Sisler did the same separated by three years in the 1920s.
Those men got hot for a couple months at a time. It takes a program's lifetime to exercise dominance over another foe.
According to Yahoo! Sports, only four teams have won 40 straight against a particular opponent on its home court: Princeton claimed 52 over Brown from 1929-2002, UCLA won 47 consecutive against Washington State from 1950-2003 and Kentucky took 41 straight from Ole Miss from 1929-96.
Besides UNC vs. Clemson, the closest active streak of home dominance over one foe is resigned to non-conference fodder. Syracuse has beaten Colgate 35 straight times at Manley Field House and the Carrier Dome dating to 1962.
Marquette also has beaten Milwaukee 35 straight in its home dome, though that series is currently inactive.
Oh so close
Probably the best chance Clemson came to ending the drought was on Feb. 10, 2008 - a brutal 103-93 loss in double overtime much closer than the final score infers. Clemson led by 15 with less than nine minutes left in regulation, and by 11 with a little more than three minutes remaining.
The Tar Heels forced extra periods with a 14-3 run to end the second half. UNC attempted 36 free throws (Clemson was 1-for-7), but Tigers point guard Demontez Stitt missed the front end of a one-and-one foul-shot opportunity with 36 seconds to go and a two-point lead.
Clemson has fallen in Chapel Hill by one point twice, in 1936 (24-23) and 1974 (61-60). The Tigers also lost 68-66 on Jan. 14, 2003, despite a six-point second-half lead opportunity; that year was Matt Doherty's last as head coach before Roy Williams arrived from Kansas.
In fourth-year head coach Brad Brownell's first crack at the Tar Heels on the road, Clemson trailed 66-65 with less than four minutes to play on Jan. 18, 2010, but UNC scored the game's final nine points.
Less than a month later, UNC beat Clemson 64-62 at Littlejohn Coliseum, and completed the season sweep in the ACC Tournament second round 92-87 in overtime.
Entering today, Brownell and the Tigers have only been back once, the Tigers' previous visit two years ago. They lost by 22.
Could this be the year?
North Carolina's shown some cracks on its home floor, losing to Belmont, Texas and Miami, just the third of Williams' 11 years at UNC with three home defeats.
From that group, only the Longhorns, with a mere five votes, is listed on any of the latest Associated Press or USA Today poll ballots. In fact, the Tar Heels themselves are left completely off themselves, a rare absence.
Meanwhile, Clemson battled for a couple of tough victories at Boston College and Virginia Tech this month, snapping a 1-11 stretch on the road. But listless defeats in the opposing gyms at Arkansas, Auburn and Pittsburgh are hardly a confidence boost.
Going into the game, the Tigers actually have the slight edge in Ken Pomeroy's team ratings based on tempo and efficiency; Clemson is No. 40 while UNC is No. 46. Both squads are stronger on the defensive end, as the Tigers have the No. 8-most efficient unit and the Tar Heels check in at No. 22.
Pomeroy gives Clemson a 35 percent chance of victory Sunday. Considering recent and ancient history, the Tigers will gladly take those odds and try to keep the Tar Heels deadlocked with DiMaggio.
Clemson at North Carolina
WHEN: Sunday, 6 p.m.
WHERE: Dean E. Smith Center, Chapel Hill, N.C.
RECORDS: Clemson 13-5, 4-2 ACC; North Carolina 11-7, 1-4
Line: North Carolina by 7½
NOTES: Junior forward K.J. McDaniels leads the Tigers in scoring (16.4 points), rebounds (7.0) and blocks (2.7) . Clemson hasn't defeated Duke and North Carolina in the same season since 1995-96 . the Tigers average just 15.5 fouls per game, in the top ten in the country for fewest fouls . UNC forward James Michael McAdoo has scored in double figures 11 straight games, the ACC's third-longest active streak . point guard Marcus Paige ranks seventh in the league both in scoring and assists . UNC's leading scorer last year, P.J. Hairston, was dismissed from the program Dec. 20 following a months-long investigation into the acceptance of impermissible benefits from non-UNC affiliated individuals.
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