Clemson builds big 1st-half lead, holds off NC State 68-57
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Clemson proved it could play well enough to build a huge lead in an Atlantic Coast Conference road game, then showed it has enough toughness to turn away a momentum-filled comeback.
Jordan Roper scored 18 points to help the Tigers beat North Carolina State 68-57 on Wednesday night despite blowing most of a 23-point first-half lead.
Rod Hall had 11 points for the Tigers (12-8, 4-4 ACC), who used a 25-2 run in the first half to take control. The Wolfpack (13-9, 4-5) rallied to within three points with about 9 minutes left, but the Tigers held on for their second league road win.
”Coach (Brad) Brownell told us they’d make a run and we’d have to absorb the punch,” Roper said. ”That’s what we did. We stayed mentally tough and knew we would get through it.”
Landry Nnoko added 10 points, including two key late baskets, as Clemson shot 52 percent after halftime to stay in front.
Trevor Lacey scored 17 points to lead the Wolfpack, who shot 29 percent and spent all night trying to recover from a disastrous start.
The Tigers couldn’t have played much better than they did in the first 20 minutes. They ran the floor. They knocked down shots with confidence. They converted turnovers into baskets. They even hit 3-pointers after struggling behind the arc all season.
Clemson held N.C. State without a basket for more than 9 1/2 minutes, pushing to a stunning 36-13 lead on the same court where the Wolfpack shot 55 percent in an upset of then-unbeaten Duke earlier this month.
”Tonight we got down in the first half and really just seemed like we lost our zip,” Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said. ”And the hole kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger.”
Trailing by 20 at the break, N.C. State came out with fullcourt pressure and much more energy to finally get going. The Wolfpack got as close as 47-44 when freshman Abdul-Malik Abu threw down an alley-oop dunk off a pass from Lacey with 9:19 left.
But that’s where the comeback ran out of gas.
The Tigers finally steadied themselves with three straight scoring possessions, then Hall drew a charge on Des Lee to protect a 53-44 lead.
N.C. State got no closer than six again, with Nnoko scoring in the paint twice – the second for a three-point play – to push the margin to a dozen with 1:36 left.
Clemson: Clemson led 36-16 at halftime. That marked only the third time in 15 halves of ACC competition that it had scored at least 36 points, according to STATS. … This marked Clemson’s fifth double-digit margin of victory in the Triangle region of North Carolina (Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill) in 180 games.
N.C. State: The Wolfpack shot 3-for-15 in the final 9 minutes. … Abu finished with 15 points and a season-high 12 rebounds. .. Ralston Turner added 10 points.
N.C. State has lost four of five since the Duke upset, including Sunday’s overtime home loss to No. 8 Notre Dame after blowing an 18-point first-half lead.
PROTECTING THE LEAD
Hall said playing with the big lead wasn’t easy.
”Everybody’s not as aggressive when they come out like when we’re down or the score’s even,” he said. ”So it was kind of difficult for everybody to keep the same momentum going without messing up.”
Clemson came in ranked 13th in the 15-team ACC in 3-point percentage (29 percent), 14th in shooting percentage (41 percent) and last in scoring at 62.8 points. But the Tigers finished this game at 47 percent and went 6-for-12 from 3-point range.
Clemson hosts Boston College on Saturday.
N.C. State travels to Georgia Tech on Saturday.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap