Pack Rally Against No. 24 Clemson Falls Short
BY TIM PEELER
RALEIGH, N.C. – NC State fought all the way back from a 21-point first-half deficit but could not pull off its second consecutive upset of a ranked team, falling 73-70 to No. 24 Clemson Saturday afternoon at the RBC Center.
The Pack got as close as 71-70 with 1:53 remaining on the clock and had at least one chance to take a lead, but Clemson junior Jerai Grant blocked freshman Richard Howell's inside shot with less than 30 seconds to play to prevent the Wolfpack from taking only its second lead in the game.
After Clemson's Tanner Smith made a pair of free throws with 18.6 seconds to play, the Wolfpack held on for the final shot. After the first attempt fell short and caromed out of bounds with 1.9 seconds on the clock, sophomore Julius Mays attempted a game-tying 3-pointer from the left wing.
The ball bounced off the front of the rim, giving the Tigers' the victory.
The Wolfpack (12-6 overall, 1-3 ACC) opened the game ice-cold from the field, making just one of nine 3-point shots and just 31.8 percent of its field goal attempts. Meanwhile, Clemson built a big lead behind 60 percent shooting from the field.
The lead ballooned to 21 points with 2:13 remaining in the first half, and Clemson led 45-28 at intermission.
But the Wolfpack clawed its way back into the game by hitting a trio of 3-point shots in the opening minutes of the second half, as sophomore Julius Mays came off the bench to contribute offensively. Mays scored a team-high 17 points and played 31 minutes in the contest.
"We dug ourselves a big hole," said NC State coach Sidney Lowe. "The guys who were in the ball game, I am very proud of the way they continued to fight. They actually had a chance to go up one with that layup, but Grant made a good block on that shot and that was the ball game."
The Wolfpack pulled within six points in the first eight minutes of the second half, and needed just another basket or two to follow up its win at No. 25 Florida State with a second consecutive upset.
"We needed to get off to a good start," Lowe said. "That's something we haven't been able to do the last couple of games. We need some guys to step forward and play well. We have some guys who just aren't playing well right now.
"Had we come out early and played with the same energy that we played with when we were coming back, then we would have been fine."
Not only did Mays come off the bench to lead the team in scoring, freshman reserve Richard Howell had one of his best games of the season, recording his first career double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds. Junior Tracy Smith had 16 points and nine rebounds, while senior Farnold Degand and freshman Scott Wood had 11 each.
Degand made one of the game's biggest defensive plays in the final five minutes when he intercepted a Noel Johnson pass in the lane and the Wolfpack came down the court hoping to cut into Clemson's four-point lead. Degand missed a runner in the lane, but Howell grabbed the rebound out to Wood, who missed a 3-pointer from the top of the lane.
As six players scrambled for the rebound, Degand got control and was fouled on the loose ball struggle. After a timeout, he hit a pair of free throws to pull the Pack within 69-67 with 3:34 to play.
Less than a minute later, Smith had a chance to tie the game, but made one of two free throws to make the score 71-70. It was a rare miss on the night for the Wolfpack, which made 24 of its 30 (80 percent) of its free throw attempts.
When David Potter missed a jumper in the lane on Clemson's next possession, Smith outmuscled several others for the loose ball and called a time out to secure the possession.
On the other end, Smith found Howell under the basket, but the freshman's shot was blocked by Grant.
"He is a very good shot-blocker," said Clemson coach Oliver Purnell. "Derai has been doing a great job for us this year against some pretty good big people. It kind of reminds me of two years ago when we came up here and we were in that same situation. J.J. Hickson was wide open and Sam Perry came out of nowhere and blocked the shot.
"It was just an effort play."
That's when Clemson's Tanner Smith hit the two free throws that gave his team the three-point lead going into the final possession.
In the first half, the Wolfpack went nearly 10 minutes without making a field goal during the latter part of the half, but frequently went to the free throw line, making 13 of 16 first-half foul shots. During the stretch without a field goal, the Pack made 11 consecutive free throws.
Howell ended the shooting slump by tipping in a miss by Degand with 44 seconds remaining in the half.
The Wolfpack returns to action Wednesday night against No. 8 Duke at the RBC Center. Tipoff is slated for 9 p.m. and will be televised on the Raycom regional network.
You may contact Tim Peeler at firstname.lastname@example.org.