Quick hits and notes from NC State's 69-61 win over Clemson in front of 14,891 fans at the RBC Center in Raleigh Thursday evening.
Play of the game
Junior wing C.J. Williams had a very quiet game Thursday night, but he made the big play when it counted. Clemson led 53-52 after a pair of free throws from senior guard Demontez Stitt. The two teams traded missed jumpers, and then Williams found himself open on the baseline with a clean look at the basket. Williams calmly stepped up and drained the jumper, giving State a 54-53 lead with 6:55 to go. The basket started a 9-0 NC State run, and the Pack never trailed again.
Highlight of the game
NC State freshman guard Lorenzo Brown was trying to split a double team near midcourt in front of NC State head coach Sidney Lowe when he was stripped of the ball by Clemson sophomore forward Milton Jennings. As Jennings raced down the court, Brown slipped and fell, giving Jennings a clean breakaway. Jennings finished the fast break with a thunderous one-handed dunk to give the Tigers a 44-39 lead with 16:04 left.
Player of the game
For the second straight contest, NC State freshman forward C.J. Leslie was a star. He made 7 of 14 shots for 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for his fourth career double-double and first in conference play. Leslie scored 14 of NC State's 32 first half points, and he showed a soft shooting touch by making 2 of 3 three-point shots. It was only the second time all year Leslie made more than one three-pointer in a game, the other coming at Boston College Jan. 11 when he also made two.
Gonzalez was a big spark
Everyone remembers what happens the first time these two teams played. NC State blew a 19-point lead at Clemson Jan. 25, and ended up losing 60-50 after scoring just 16 points in the second half. State led 31-12 before being outscored 48-19 over the last 26 minutes of the contest.
The Pack did not start promisingly in this game either. Clemson jumped out to a 28-19 lead after Jennings slammed home a missed lay-up by junior wing Tanner Smith with 4:09 left before halftime. Combined with the last 26 minutes at Clemson, the Tigers had outscored NC State 76-38 over a 42-minute span.
Then it all changed, and a large credit to that goes to NC State senior guard Javier Gonzalez. He scored six straight points before halftime for NC State during a 6-2 Wolfpack run over the last 1:23 to cut the Tigers' lead down to 34-32 at halftime.
Gonzalez was clutch at the line late in the game, making 5 of 6 free throws to help ice the contest. He finished with 11 points and three assists with just one turnover in 18 minutes. The scoring total matched Gonzalez's best for the year when he scored 11 against Youngstown State Dec. 16. His only other game in double digits this season had been a 10-point effort versus George Mason Nov. 19.
Best effort of the year?
Say what you want about the state of NC State's basketball program, but the last two games showed that the Pack has not quit on the season. After demolishing Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, N.C., last Sunday, NC State may have put forth their best effort of the season against Clemson Thursday night. The rebounding and defensive numbers versus the Tigers prove that case.
The Pack outrebounded Clemson 46-38. This was the first time that the Wolfpack had out-rebounded a non-Wake Forest ACC squad this year. State held Clemson to 3-of-20 shooting from three-point range, or 15.0 percent. That's the lowest three-point percentage allowed by the Wolfpack's defense in an ACC game this season, and the Tigers shot just 37.5 percent (24 of 64) for the game, also the lowest percentage in conference action for NCSU's defense.
Favorable schedule from here out?
It's worth noting that all but three of NC State's 11 conference games have come against the six teams in the conference that are either .500 or better. The final five contests features just two opponents in the top half of the league. One of them, Florida State, also just lost its star player, junior forward Chris Singleton, to a foot injury. It's highly questionable that he'll return in time for the Noles' visit to Raleigh March 6.
NC State is at Maryland (5-6 ACC record) Sunday, then host North Carolina (9-2) Feb. 23. State then will have the softest two-game stretch on its ACC slate, Georgia Tech (3-8) at home Feb. 26 and at Virginia (3-8) March 1.
Spotted at the game
Junior forward T.J. Warren, a Durham, N.C., native playing at Word of God Academy in Raleigh, was in attendance, as was his teammate, senior center Joseph Uchebo. Uchebo has signed with NC State. Players from Christian Faith Academy in Creedmoor, N.C., were also in attendance. Senior forward Kevin Thomas for Christian Faith has been recruited by NC State.
What the win means
NC State has its first winning streak in ACC play this year. The Pack improves to 14-11 overall and 4-7 in the conference while Clemson falls to 17-9 and 6-6 in the league. NC State is tied with Miami for eighth in the ACC, and the Pack owns the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Hurricanes after defeating Miami 72-70 Jan. 23 in Raleigh.
If the ACC tournament was held tomorrow, NC State and Miami would have a rematch in the first round with the winner playing the top seed, in this case Duke, in the second round. Clemson is all alone in sixth in the standings, a half-game behind Boston College and half-game ahead of Maryland. They would play Georgia Tech in the ACC Tourney first round since the Yellow Jackets, tied for 10th with Virginia, lost to the Cavs Jan. 22 and thus would be the 11th seed.
NC State and Clemson split the season series, and the Pack now has a 97-47 edge in the overall series. The Pack is 46-13 in games played in Raleigh and 5-4 in the RBC Center. The win snaps a streak for Clemson where the Tigers had won six of the last seven games, including three in a row at the RBC Center.
Other stats of note
- Clemson outscored NC State in the paint 32-24 and on fast breaks 13-3.
- The Tigers had just five turnovers compared to nine for NC State, and CU had a 5-4 edge in points off turnovers.
- NC State outscored Clemson 19-13 in second chance points and 26-16 in bench points.