Clemson remains unbeaten, tops Wolfpack, 87-76
BY TIM PEELER
RALEIGH, NC – NC State’s hopes of handing Clemson its first loss of the season faded in the second half of Tuesday night’s game at the RBC Center, as the No. 17 Tigers out-lasted the short-handed Wolfpack, 87-76.
Clemson, the nation’s only unbeaten team, used its pressure defense to create turnovers by the Wolfpack, which was playing again without senior guard Engin Atsur because of a recurrence of his hamstring injury. That forced junior Gavin Grant to return to the point position and gave the Tigers the opportunity to put defensive pressure in the full court and in the half court.
The Tigers led by a 40-36 margin at the half, but scored on back-to-back 3-pointers in the second half to push its lead to double figures and led by as many as 18 points with four minutes to play.
“We gave them back-to-back 3s at the start of the second half and we were never able to recover from that,” Grant said. “We talked about coming out the right way in the second half, and we didn’t do it.”
Coach Oliver Purnell’s Tigers were scorching from the field in the second half, making 62.5 percent of their shots from the field after intermission. Clemson (17-0 overall, 3-0 ACC) matched the best start to a season in school history.
“Do I think they are unbeatable?” Grant said. “No, I definitely don’t. I thought we had a chance to beat them. The second half, we came out flat and weren’t able to recover. The first half, we made some bone-head plays.”
For the Wolfpack, Grant finished the game with a team-high 22 points and sophomore Ben McCauley had 15 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. Redshirt freshman Brandon Costner had 14 points and nine rebounds.
The Wolfpack began the game hot from the field, hitting five of its first six shots to take a 13-9 lead. Clemson, thanks to full-court pressure defense, created 10 first half turnovers and built as much as a 10-point lead before halftime.
“I thought for the first half we did a pretty good job of controlling things in playing a pretty good ball game, except for a couple of times on the offensive end where we gave the ball away,” Wolfpack coach Sidney Lowe said. “We had 10 turnovers, and eight or nine of them were in a half-court set. They were very aggressive with it.
“When we went to the lockerroom, we felt we had done a decent job with it. We wanted to come out that first five minutes of that second half and really try to get something going. Instead, we turned it over against their trap. They did a nice job of scoring on our turnovers.”
For the game, the Wolfpack had 17 turnovers to Clemson’s eight. The Tigers had a 21-4 advantage in points off turnovers.
The Tigers made five of 11 3-point shots in the first half, but the Wolfpack was even better, making four of five from long-range, including a four-point play by freshman Dennis Horner, who made all three of his 3-point shots in the half. Horner, who had 11 points earlier this season against Mount St. Mary’s, had 10 points by intermission and a career-high 14 for the game.
Grant also had a perfect shooting first half, making all five of his shots for 13 points.
The Wolfpack erased Clemson’s lead with rugged defense, balanced scoring and strong rebounding, owning a 15-14 advantage on the boards. Four different players scored in a 9-1 run that got the Wolfpack within two points with 8:25 remaining in the half.
The Pack had a couple of chances later in the half to take the lead, but turnovers against the Clemson defense eliminated those opportunities.
Atsur, who missed nine consecutive games with a hamstring injury, returned to the lineup on Saturday against Boston College, but was in street clothes for Tuesday’s game against the Tigers.
The Wolfpack plays its next game Saturday at Wake Forest, its second ACC road game of the season.You may contact Tim Peeler at firstname.lastname@example.org.