Quick hits and notes from NC State's 59-57 victory over Clemson in the first round of the ACC Tournament in front of an announced crowd of 23,381 at the Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum Thursday night.
Play of the game
There would be no repeats of the Florida game. NC State led by two then with just over two seconds remaining when fifth-year senior guard Farnold Degand missed the second of two free throws and Florida junior forward Chandler Parsons hit a three-quarter court length shot to stun the Pack.
This time State led 59-57 with 2.9 seconds left when sophomore guard Julius Mays toed the line. Mays is NC State's best free throw shooter at 88.5 percent, but he missed the front end of his one and one. Clemson though would never have a shot to pull off a miracle. Sophomore wing C.J. Williams and junior forward Tracy Smith successfully battled for the rebound and created a harmless loose ball situation as time expired. Sometimes it's the little things that win games.
Player of the game
Smith had a game-high 19 points on 9-of-15 shooting and added eight rebounds and a co-game high three steals. Smith was the only NC State player in double figures scoring for the Pack. It is the only time this year the Pack won a game when only one player scored at least 10 points.
Smith outshined, albeit slightly, his counterpart from Clemson, senior Trevor Booker. Booker, a first-team All-ACC selection, had 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting and eight rebounds, but he also had a game-high five turnovers.
Pack controls the action
After the game, Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell complimented NC State for dictating the pace of the game and controlling the action. NC State took the lead at 7-5 on a three-pointer by Degand with 15:14 to go in the first half and never trailed again. In fact, once the Pack scored again to take a 9-5 lead, Clemson never got closer than three points until the final margin.
The Pack though never could deliver the knockout punch. A three by freshman wing Scott Wood gave State its only double-digit lead of the game at 52-42 with 12:52 to go, but Clemson quickly responded with a 5-0 burst in the next minute.
The conventional wisdom on press row before the game seemed to be that Clemson was a bad matchup for NC State, but the history between the two teams this year seems to indicate otherwise. After Clemson blistered NC State 45-28 in the first half of the regular season affair between the two teams behind 60.0 percent shooting, the Pack has outscored the Tigers 101-85 in the next three havlves.
Shutting down the guards
The key to NC State's win Thursday night was its ability to shut down Clemson's guards. The starting duo of junior point guard Demontez Stitt and sophomore wing Tanner Smith combined to shoot 5 of 13 for 14 points, with just one assist and four turnovers. Sharp-shooting sophomore backup point guard Andre Young went 0 for 6 from the field, missing all four of his three-point shot attempts.
NC State also had 11 steals in the game, matching their Holy Cross performance for the third most in a game this season.
Offense was mixed
While the defense did a successful job of neutralizing Clemson's guards, the offense had mixed results Thursday night. On one hand, they shot 52.3 percent from the field for the game after making 13 of 21 second half shots.
However, State was just 3 of 11 from downtown and 10 of 15 at the line. It is the first time this season State knocked off an ACC opponent while shooting less than 40 percent on three-pointers. The Pack also had 19 turnovers, their fifth highest total of the year.
One development to keep an eye on as the ACC Tournament unfolds though is Wood's shooting. When the Pack played UNC Greensboro in the Greensboro Coliseum on New Year's Eve, Wood made 5 of 7 threes. During the shoot-around Wednesday afternoon, Wood was bragging to teammates and reporters watching about how many threes he was making in a row. He was again red hot during warm-ups Thursday evening, and Wood made both of his three-point attempts against Clemson. He seems to enjoy shooting at the Greensboro Coliseum.
Kudos to the bench
A big key in NC State's win was the play of Mays, Williams and freshman power forward Richard Howell. Williams continued his strong recent play by scoring eight points on 2-of-3 shooting, once again aggressively attacking the basket. Williams is averaging 9.0 points per game in his last five contests.
Mays held down the fort when starting junior point guard Javier Gonzalez injured his ankle. Mays finished with just four points and an assist in 19 minutes and also had three turnovers, but he held his own against Clemson's aggressive pressure defense.
Howell though was probably the biggest contributor off the bench. Against Clemson's beefy frontcourt, Howell had nine points, making all four of his shots, and added 11 rebounds, helping the Pack outrebound Clemson 34-25. Howell played 21 minutes, one more than senior starter Dennis Horner, who struggled for two points and four boards.
NC State's bench outscored Clemson's 21-16.
What the win means
NC State became the fourth 11th seed in the last six years to knock off the six seed in the ACC Tournament. However, it's worth noting that no 11th seed has ever advanced to the ACC semifinals. The Pack were one of three lower seeds to advance Thursday, the lone exception being 10th-seeded North Carolina who lost to seventh-seeded Georgia Tech.
UNC and Wake Forest's losses Thursday means that only two of the big four in North Carolina will play in the quarterfinals. Duke had a first round bye and will face Virginia Friday afternoon. It's the second time in three years that just two in-state universities are playing on Friday.
NC State now leads the overall series against Clemson 96-46 and improved to 20-5 on neutral sites. The Pack also snaps a five-game losing streak to the Tigers. NC State is 6-2 against Clemson in the ACC Tournament.
The Pack improved their record to games played in the Greensboro Coliseum for the ACC Tournament to 20-19. Clemson's ACC Tournament misery continued however, as the Tigers is now just 14-43 in conference tourney openers.
Rematch with Florida State
NC State will face third-seeded Florida State in the quarterfinals. The two teams met just once in the regular season, with the Pack surprising then No. 25 FSU 88-81 in Tallahassee behind a spectacular shooting effort by Wood. He finished that game with 31 points on 10-of-15 shooting, including 7 of 11 three-pointers. Degand added 13 points and Mays contributed 12 in the win.
That game played out similar to the Clemson win Thursday night. NC State turned an early 11-7 deficit into a 23-11 advantage after a 16-1 first half run, and then kept FSU at arm's length the rest of the way. The Noles never got closer than four points.
FSU finished the regular season 22-8 overall and went 10-6 in the conference, tying for third place with Virginia Tech. They entered the ACC Tournament having won five of their last six games.
Other stats of note
- NC State outscored Clemson in the paint 32-26.
- Clemson had 15 turnovers compared to State's 19, and the Tigers also enjoyed a 24-17 edge in points off turnovers. Clemson was also better in transition, outpacing the Pack 7-2 in fast break points.
- Despite outrebounding Clemson overall, the Tigers had a 11-10 edge on the offensive glass, and that translated to a 12-7 advantage in second-chance points for Clemson.