It would be easy for N.C. State to blame Notre Dame.
Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said it was more fitting to credit Clemson.
The Tigers raced to a 20-point halftime lead Wednesday, then withstood an aggressive Wolfpack press and rally in the second half for a 68-57 victory at PNC Arena.
The Pack was coming off a discouraging loss Sunday against the Irish, losing the lead late in regulation and then the game in overtime. That one hurt, and the loss to the Tigers was another body blow.
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But the Tigers, energized by a last-second victory over Wake Forest, were the better team Wednesday. Clemson, always physical on defense, used a 25-2 run in the first half to build the big lead and maintained its poise when the Pack made its second-half push.
The Wolfpack, trailing 36-16 at the break, got within 47-44 with more than nine minutes left on a dunk by freshman Abdul-Malik Abu, who had 15 points and 12 rebounds. Wolfpack fans were roaring, sensing an improbable comeback victory, but the Tigers (12-8 overall, 4-4 ACC) steadied and put together a 11-3 run for an 11-point cushion.
"I don't know that you could play a worst half of basketball than we played in the first half. We dug ourselves a hole," Gottfried said. "Give Clemson credit. They came in here and gained confidence as the first half went on, and we started to get down on ourselves. You could see it in the guys' faces. They became a little unsure and obviously you can't do that in this league."
N.C. State guard Trevor Lacey, who scored 14 of his 17 points in the second half, said the Pack (13-9, 4-5) allowed its missed shots in the first half to cause frustration and affect its defense. Clemson, one of the ACC's weaker offensive teams, moved the ball well, got open looks and made shots while the Pack appeared befuddled.
Clemson's 25-2 run, which pushed the Tigers ahead 27-8, was capped by a pair of 3-pointers by junior guard Jordan Roper, who had a game-high 18 points. Clemson, shooting 29 percent on 3's this season, was 5-of-10 from the arch in the first half.
"They were at the playground on us in the first half," Lacey said. "They got everything they wanted -- wide-open 3's, layups.
"That's what we've been doing all year -- playing half a game. In the second half we made runs, but 20 points is a lot."
Gottfried challenged the Pack's pride at the half. Some of the players, he said, seemed "a little lost" during first-half timeouts and he asked them to focus and fight.
The Pack's pressure defense quickly began to force turnovers and PNC Arena came alive. The Tigers' lead shrank to 13 points, then 10, seven.
"It sped them up a little bit and, energy-wise, got us going a little more," Lacey said of the press. "We were more active."
When Abu rose high for a slam off a lob pass from Lacey, it was 47-44. The arena was loud. But Clemson's Jaron Blossomgame scored as the Tigers pushed through the press, then scored again after the Pack pulled within 53-47 on a Lacey 3-pointer.
The Pack, after shooting 23 percent from the field in the first half, closed at 28.6 percent for the game. The Tigers shot 47.2 percent from the field, picking up 22 fast-break points.
"If a couple of shots don't fall for them we may be in here with a great comeback," Abu said. "But it's basketball. Some days you win and some days you lose."
With three straight ACC losses, the Pack now has two road games -- Saturday at Georgia Tech, then at Wake Forest. ThenVirginia at home. It won't get any easier for N.C. State.
"Every game is a sense of urgency," Gottfried said. "We've got 18 sense-of-urgency games."