Cat Barber didn’t have his fastball on Saturday. Turns out NC State didn’t need its star at his best to top Clemson.
With Barber struggling, the Wolfpack bounced back from its most lopsided loss of the season with a 77-74 home win over the Tigers.
Freshman guard Maverick Rowan scored 17 of his 20 points in the second half to help N.C. State (14-13, 4-10 ACC) put Monday’s 73-53 loss at Virginia in the rearview mirror.
That Barber, the ACC’s leading scorer, was held to a season-low eight points and made only one field goal, made the conference win all the more unique.
“It was nice to take the weight off his shoulders,” said Rowan, who went 7 of 10 from the floor in the second half.
Barber entered the game with an ACC-best 23.7 scoring average. The Tigers (16-11, 9-6) played straight man defense on the point guard but he couldn’t get his offense going.
Barber was 0 for 6 from the floor in the first half and didn’t score until he made a pair of free throws with 4.9 seconds left.
“We were grateful to be in the game at that point,” sophomore forward Abdul-Malik Abu said.
Barber finished the game 1 of 12 from the floor and didn’t make a field goal until 5 minutes, 27 seconds in the second half. But the Wolfpack found a way to win.
Abu finished with 17 points and 16 rebounds and sophomore wing Caleb Martin added 16 points.
The win was especially sweet for Rowan and Abu, who both struggled in the loss at Virginia. Abu had one point against the Cavaliers and Rowan had three points, shooting 1 of 10.
Rowan said he went to the gym the day after the loss and put up some extra shots.
“The next day you get back in the gym and work on your shot,” Rowan said. “You’ve got to put (the loss) in the past.”
Rowan did with a strong start to the second half, scoring 13 of the Wolfpack’s first 17 points, and with a clutch shot with 1:24 left.
Forward Jaron Blossomgame scored 11 straight points for Clemson, and he had a career-high 33, to pull the Tigers within 71-70 with 2 minutes left.
Abu was hounding Blossomgame on defense but the underrated Clemson junior was able to make 12 of his 22 field goals and three 3-pointers.
“He made some shots and was I was like, ‘Man, what else do you want me to do?’ ” Abu said. “He’s great. He’s smooth and can finish around the rim. I give a lot of credit to his game.”
But after Avry Holmes, who was the primary defender on Barber, missed the front end of a one-and-one at 1:44, Rowan banged in a long 2-pointer from the left wing to push N.C. State’s lead to 73-70.
Instead of going back to Blossomgame, Clemson had Donte Grantham take a 3 on the next possession, which rimmed out and Martin got the rebound.
Barber did make four free throws in the final 25 seconds to seal the win.
For Clemson, a team with five wins over top-50 RPI teams – and two in the top 10 – it was a blow to its NCAA tournament hopes.
For N.C. State, it was a show of pride after a disappointing second-half effort at Virginia.
“Our whole team had a tough game at Virginia,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “Nobody was really good, especially in the second half. Good team win, good collective group win for our guys today.”