CLEMSON, S.C. — As N.C. State's basketball season continued to slip away Saturday with a 72-69 overtime loss to Clemson in Littlejohn Coliseum, Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried tried to stay philosophical - and upbeat.
"It's the ebbs and flows that make athletics really challenging," Gottfried said after his team lost for the fourth consecutive time and saw its chances at an NCAA tournament at-large berth all-but vanish. "But I love these guys. I told them to keep their heads up. I said if you give us this kind of effort every night then eventually things will turn around for us."
An admirable sentiment, but time is running out for the Wolfpack (18-11, 7-7 ACC), which was sunk Saturday when Clemson's Andre Young banked in a 3-pointer from the corner with 10.1 seconds left in overtime for the winning points. The Wolfpack's C.J. Leslie missed a 3-pointer at the other end as time expired that would have tied it.
The Wolfpack has two regular-season games remaining, on Wednesday at home against Miami and next Sunday at Virginia Tech, to right itself before the ACC tournament. But it might be too late.
Four games ago, the Wolfpack was near the top of the league standings. A return to the NCAA tournament for the first time in five seasons seemed like a strong possibility.
But after losses to Duke, Florida State, North Carolina and now Clemson (15-13, 7-7), an ACC tournament championship might be the only thing that saves N.C. State from the NIT.
"We're not even thinking about that," said Wolfpack forward C.J. Williams, who missed the front end of a one-and-one with 15.4 seconds left in regulation and N.C. State holding a two-point lead. "We're just worried about each individual game. We'll let the (NCAA tournament) selection committee worry about that."
Williams' missed free throw, part of the Wolfpack's 5-of-13 performance from the line, allowed Clemson a chance to tie it with 4.1 seconds left in regulation when Tanner Smith made two free throws, the first of which hung on the rim for an agonizingly long time before dropping in.
The game then went into overtime after the Wolfpack's C.J. Leslie, who finished with 18 points and eight rebounds, missed a jumper as the buzzer sounded.
The game stayed close in overtime, but the Wolfpack's shakiness at the line was again costly.
After Young hit a 3 with 1:13 left to tie it at 69-69, Wolfpack point guard Lorenzo Brown missed two free throws with 43.7 seconds left.
That set up the Tigers' winning play. After a timeout with 14.3 seconds left, Young took an inbounds pass from Smith and knocked it in from the left corner.
"It went down," said Young, who finished with 12 points. "And when it went down, it felt good."
Said Clemson coach Brad Brownell: "That last shot, there was no thought to it. Sometimes you can be your own worst enemy, especially if you're a good kid with a conscience like Andre. But you just have to shoot it. He nailed it."
The game was close nearly the entire way. The Wolfpack never led by more than four points and Clemson took a brief eight-point lead in the second half.
And as fast as the Wolfpack is plummeting in the ACC standings, the Tigers are rising. It was Clemson's fourth victory in five games.
"You hope that basketball gods are smiling on us, you hope things even out a little bit," said Brownell, whose team has lost five ACC games by four or fewer points. "It was a great day for karma to go (our) way."