Quick hits and notes from NC State's 73-70 loss to No. 19 Clemson in front of 17,984 fans at the RBC Center Saturday afternoon.
Play of the game
NC State never once led in Saturday's contest, but on two occasions they had shots in the air that could have given them the lead. The first was when freshman wing Scott Wood misfired on a three-pointer with 2:55 left and Clemson leading 69-67. The other though will be remembered as the play of the game.
Clemson was leading 71-70 with around 40 seconds left. Fifth-year senior guard Farnold Degand ran the pick and roll with junior forward Tracy Smith on the left wing. Doubled off the screen, Degand flicked a pass to Smith. Underneath the basket and seemingly wide open was freshman power forward Richard Howell. Howell's defender, Clemson senior power forward Jerai Grant, had doubled Degand on the pick and roll to prevent Degand from penetrating to the basket. Smith saw the open Howell and quickly jumped a pass to the right block where Howell was standing.
Howell went up for the short lay-up, but Grant hustled back and blocked Howell's shot. Clemson recovered the rebound, and then sophomore swingman Tanner Smith made two crucial free throws with 18.6 seconds left for the final margin. NC State sophomore point guard Julius Mays would miss a pair of three-point attempts in the final seconds.
Player of the game
In his post game press conference, NC State head coach Sidney Lowe called Clemson senior center Trevor Booker a "great player." There is no denying that after his performance against NC State. Booker had a game-high 20 points on 9-of-16 shooting and also added six rebounds and two blocked shots.
Tale of two halves
This season, Clemson has traditionally been a better first half team while the Pack usually plays its best ball in the second half. Saturday was a classic example, and the numbers bear it out:
In the first half Clemson made 60.0 percent of its shots, shooting 18 of 30 from the field, making 3 of 7 three-pointers. The Tigers had eight more shot attempts than NC State, which was just 7-of-22 shooting for 31.8 percent. The Pack was just 1 of 9 shooting three-pointers. NC State had seven first half turnovers compared to four for the Tigers. Both teams had 14 rebounds at the break. The end result was the Tigers leading 45-28 at the break after leading by as much as 21 points in the first half.
Clemson cooled off significantly in the second half however. The Tigers made just 8 of 23 shots after halftime, or just 34.8 percent, and was just 1-of-10 shooting beyond the arc. NC State was much more active, shooting nine more times than Clemson and making 14 of 32 shots for 43.8 percent. The turnover numbers flip-flopped from the first half, with Clemson committing seven while State had just four. NC State also owned the boards, outrebounding Clemson 25-14, including 9-3 on the offensive glass. NC State also outscored Clemson 42-28 in the second stanza.
In the first half, Clemson had a 24-10 advantage in points in the paint, 11-4 edge in points off turnovers, 11-3 nod in second chance points, were better in transition by a 9-2 margin in fast break points and their bench outscored State's 15-10.
The numbers all went in State's favor in the second half: 20-14 in points in the paint, 12-5 in points off turnovers, 5-4 in second chance points, 8-4 in fast break points and 20-5 in bench scoring.
Two reserves step up, two starters struggling
It is now fair to say that junior starting point guard Javier Gonzalez is slumping. He played just 10 ineffective minutes, missing both his shot attempts and committing four turnovers and two fouls. In his last four games, Gonzalez has played 15 or less minutes three times, and he is averaging just 4.0 points and 1.5 assists during that span. He also has turned it over 11 times, 2.8 per game.
Senior forward Dennis Horner also struggled Saturday. He played a season-low 13 minutes against Clemson. Horner had not played that few of minutes in a game since Feb. 11 last year against Wake Forest when he only got on the court for nine minutes. Horner finished with a season-low two points, making a pair of free throws, and added two assists but no rebounds. Horner also struggled against FSU last Tuesday when he had just eight points and no boards in 22 minutes.
Fortunately for Lowe's squad, their backups picked up the slack in a significant way. Sophomore point guard Julius Mays had a season-high 17 points and added three assists and just a pair of turnovers against the Tigers' pressure defense in 31 minutes, also a season-high. Mays was just one point off his career-high of 18 points. Mays played the final 18:05 of the game. He is averaging 11.8 points a game in his last four contests.
Howell may not have made the final shot for the Pack, but he recorded his first career double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds. Both were also career-highs for Howell, as was his 26 minutes of playing time.
The Pack nearly had two players get a double-double. Smith finished with 16 points and nine boards. The last time two Wolfpackers recorded a double-double was when Brandon Costner and Ben McCauley did it against North Carolina Central last season.
Clemson shot 49.1 percent from the field for the game, which barely tops Northwestern's 49.0 percent shooting for the highest mark allowed by State this season. The Tigers blocked nine shots, one off a season-high for the Tigers and also one off the most allowed by NC State. Ironically the most times the Pack has been rejected in a game came last Tuesday against the Noles. In the last two contests, NC State has been blocked 19 times. Clemson's 11 turnovers matched a season-low for the Tigers.
There were some positives for NC State, too. The plus-11 rebounding edge for NC State was the worst margin of the year for Clemson. The Pack went 24 of 30 at the line, a season-high in free throws made by a Tigers opponent and matching the most attempts against Clemson. NC State's 11 turnovers were also just one off the fewest forced by the Tigers this year.
Spotted at the game
Former public address announcer C.A. Dillon returned to introduce the starting line-ups. The Pack also featured video-taped speeches from former Wolfpack players Julius Hodge and Vinny Del Negro as NC State continues to celebrate its 100th year of basketball.
Top Class of 2010 target C.J. Leslie, a forward from Word of God Academy in Raleigh, N.C., was in attendance with his parents. Also there was senior point guard Ryan Harrow from Walton High in Marietta, Ga., a Pack recruit. Potential Class of 2010 target Antonin Galaya from Charis Prep in Wilson, N.C., was also in attendance. Galaya is a 6-foot-5 sharpshooting wing.
During the game NC State also produced a check of $24,250 for the Toys for Tots, an organization that NC State football coach Tom O'Brien serves on the board. Football players Sterling Lucas, Audie Cole, Mike Glennon and Owen Spencer helped present the check.
Not spotted at the game were a full section of NC State students. There were noticeable gaps in their seating behind both goals and even some along the sideline.
Clemson's victory may have come at a cost. Junior point guard Demontez Stitt left the game with 12 minutes to go with a foot injury. X-rays were negative, but Stitt did not return and was reportedly on crutches after the game.
Also, Booker reached the 1,500-career points plateau. He entered the contest with 1,496 career points and notched 20 in the win. Booker now needs 58 rebounds to become the sixth player in ACC history to have 1,500 points, 1,000 rebounds and 225 blocks. The other five were for Duke standouts Mike Gminski and Shelden Williams, former UNC All-American Sam Perkins and former national players of the years Ralph Sampson, from Virginia, and Tim Duncan, from Wake Forest.
Also, this is the second straight game were Clemson led from start to finish. The Tigers dominated UNC to a 72-56 win last Wednesday night. The last time Clemson has trailed was 2-0 to Boston College Jan. 9.
What the loss means
NC State falls to 12-6 overall and 1-3 in the ACC while Clemson improves to 15-3 and 3-1 in the league. NC State now leads the overall series 95-46 and 45-13 in games played in Raleigh, but Clemson has tied the series record in the RBC Center at 4-4. Clemson has now won five in a row against NC State and three in a row in Raleigh.