by Mike Potter
RBC CENTER/RALEIGH N.C. State returns home after a blowout victory still looking for momentum to get to the middle of the ACC.
State (13-11) needs victories to stay in good position for some kind of post-season play, and with no seemingly impossible assignments left on the schedule could still make a long-shot run at an NCAA bid.
But the Tigers have had great success at the RBC Center, and have a 4-4 record on their eight previous visits.
This time the Wolfpack plays great basketball down the stretch, holding off the Tigers 69-61 to improve to three games over .500.
The Tigers look better early, taking an 8-7 lead on a 3-pointer from Andre Young with 16:03 left in the first half and holding it for nearly 18 minutes.
Clemson’s biggest lead before the break is 28-19 on a Milton Jennings tip-in at 4:06, and it’s 34-32 at the break.
The Tigers outshoot the Wolfpack 45.2 percent to 41.9 over the first half and outrebound them 20-16.
State takes the lead at 45-44 on a Richard Howell free throw with 12:54 to play. Clemson’s last lead is 53-52 on a pair of Demontez Stitt free throws at 8:14, and C.J. Williams’ jumper at 6:54 gives the Wolfpack the lead for good.
The Wolfpack increases its advantage to 61-53 on a Ryan Harrow free throw at 4:05, and the Tigers never again close the gap closer than five points.
C.J. Leslie paces the winners with 18 points and 10 rebounds, followed by Tracy Smith with 14 points and Javier Gonzalez with 11. Howell adds 10 rebounds to go with his nine points.
Stitt leads Clemson with 16 points, followed by Jerai Grant with 13 and Jennings 10.
State outshoots the Tigers 39 percent to 37.5 and wins the rebound battle 46-38. The Wolfpack turns the ball over just nine times, the Tigers five.
They said it …
NCSU coach Sidney Lowe: “We did this together. We talked about it before the game — that it’s about taking care of your teammate, loving your teammate. If we play together we can do some damage. I thought our guys answered the bell. (Clemson) was physical early and we fought back. It was important for us to respond … Gonzalez was great. I thought he had great energy defensively and great poise offensively. He controlled the game for us.
Clemson coach Brad Brownell: “I thought their kids played hard tonight. C.J. Leslie was outstanding and made big things happen. We couldn’t keep him off the glass. I thought they got momentum heading into halftime, and for whatever reason we couldn’t score. Our initial defense was good, but we couldn’t get them off the glass.”
Tracy Smith: “It’s our second win in a row and it feels good to be winning. Right now we’re very confident. We’ve got our heads high and still think we can make some noise, so we’re going to keep moving forward. I knew at halftime I wasn’t playing my best basketball in the first half, so I came out with a different mindset. I just went out and played hard and went after it.”
Gonzalez: “We’re playing together and finding the open man to make the great play. It’s time for us to start playing the way we should have been playing the whole season. It’s not too late. We can make a run and that’s what we’re trying to do. Coach has told me to be more aggressive, and that’s been helping too.”
What does it all mean?
That the Wolfpack is feeling pretty good riding on a two-game winning streak. And that the Tigers probably still have some winning to do to feel comfortable about an NCAA bid.
Stars of the game
3. Tracy Smith.
Play of the game
Williams’ jumper that gave State the lead for good.
NCSU leads 97-47.
NCSU: Won 2.
CU: Lost 2.
Clemson at Miami, Sunday, 3:30 p.m.
N.C. State at Maryland, Sunday, 5:30 p.m.