CLEMSON, S.C. — N.C. State might have played its way out of the NCAA tournament conversation – at least for now – on Tuesday, while Clemson is right back in it.
The Tigers’ 73-56 ACC basketball victory against the Wolfpack at Littlejohn Coliseum gave a bit of postseason confidence and hope to a Clemson team that had lost three straight.
But it also dealt a blow to the Wolfpack (16-10, 6-7), which was hoping to turn a one-point loss against top-ranked Syracuse on Saturday into something positive against the Tigers (16-9, 7-6).
Instead, the Wolfpack, which entered the game with an RPI of 51, doesn’t have much wiggle room for its NCAA tournament hopes.
“We’ve got to get refocused,” Wolfpack guard Tyler Lewis said. “We know we’ve got to win from here on out.”
Next up for the Wolfpack is a game Saturday at Virginia Tech. N.C. State then plays three of its final four games at home (against North Carolina, Miami and Boston College).
Behind guard Rod Hall’s 20 points, Clemson started quickly in each half. They scored the game’s first seven points, forcing the Wolfpack to play catch-up virtually the entire night. N.C. State’s only lead was at halftime, 33-32, after forward T.J. Warren’s layup with five seconds left.
Then Clemson did it again, outscoring the Wolfpack 9-0 to start the second half. And that was something from which N.C. State couldn’t recover.
“What we really needed was a great start to the second half,” Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said. “But we came out flat again. It was like we had cement boots on.”
Hall was the key to the Tigers’ quick starts. A burly 6-foot-1, 210-pounder, he found his way into the lane often to score on short jumpers, going 6-for-10 from the floor and making all eight of his free throws.
“We talked about that,” Tigers coach Brad Brownell said. “We wanted to get Rod into the paint against their small guards. That helped us get off to a strong start.”
The Tigers’ lead grew to as many as 20 in the second half. On one N.C. State possession, an agitated Gottfried stomped his feet in frustration as his team tried to find a shot. It never materialized as the shot clock expired.
“Our team has had a great edge every game, an edge that’s positive,” Gottfried said. “There’s a spirit about us. But we just couldn’t get going.”
Warren, the ACC’s leading scorer entering the game, scored 20 to lead the Wolfpack. He scored seven straight during one second-half stretch to cut a Clemson lead to seven points, but he followed that by fumbling the ball out of bounds on the next possession – one of his six turnovers.
“He did some things he wouldn’t normally do,” said Gottfried of Warren.
The victory might have put the Tigers back on the NCAA tournament bubble, from where they had fallen after consecutive losses to Syracuse, Notre Dame and Virginia.
“We lost three in a row, but we didn’t play bad,” Brownell said. “You can lose games and play well, especially in this league. I reminded our guys we had done some good things in them.”
The Wolfpack had felt something similar after its loss at Syracuse. But Clemson’s orange proved to be tougher than Syracuse’s.
“It’s very disappointing,” Lewis said. “We felt like we should have gotten that game up there. But we still wanted to build on it and not have a hangover. But I felt like we had a hangover (Tuesday).”