No. 8 N.C. State remains unbeaten, tops Clemson 54-51

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Forced into 21 turnovers by Clemson’s swarming defense, No. 8 N.C. State countered with a strong defensive finish to remain the nation’s only unbeaten team.

Kiara Leslie scored 13 points, Elissa Cunane added 11 and Erika Cassell 10 as N.C. State topped Clemson 54-51 on Thursday night.

Leslie scored seven points in the third quarter as N.C. State (19-0, 6-0 ACC) turned a one-point deficit into a 48-39 lead heading into the final period. DD Rogers had 11 points and 15 rebounds as the Wolfpack held the Tigers scoreless for the final 4 minutes 23 seconds.

Clemson (14-6, 5-2) missed its final 10 field goal attempts and saw its five-game winning streak snapped, despite an 18-point effort by Simone Westbrook and Aliya Collier’s 13 points and 13 rebounds.

“It wasn’t pretty,” N.C. State coach Wes Moore said. “It was about as much fun as a root canal. But they found a way to win.”

N.C. State struggled. After leading by 11 in the fourth quarter, the Wolfpack went 8:17 without a field goal and committed four turnovers in 46 seconds. Clemson took a one-point lead with just over four minutes remaining on a third layup by Westbrook in a 21-second span.

“We didn’t have any energy,” N.C. State center Erika Cassell said. “We were second-guessing ourselves and not doing the things we normally do, so it made it a little harder on everyone. But we picked it up at the end.”

N.C. State guard Aislinn Konig hit a layup with 1:43 remaining to reclaim the lead for good at 52-51, and Leslie added a backdoor layup off an inbounds play to stretch the advantage to 54-51.

The center platoon of freshman Cunane and Cassell combined for 21 points on a night when defense and a 48-35 rebounding advantage helped the Wolfpack overcome six fourth-quarter turnovers and four missed free throws in the final 23 seconds.

“We saw some moments of our best (effort),” said Clemson coach Amanda Butler. “But you’ve got to give N.C. State credit. They established themselves in the paint and they beat us on the boards.”

BIG PICTURE

Clemson: The end of the five-game winning streak coincides with the start of a brutal stretch of the Tigers’ schedule. Thursday’s game was the first of three straight games against top-10 opponents as No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 4 Louisville await, so Clemson will get a great idea of how it matches up against the best teams in the nation.

N.C. State: After flirting with disaster in an overtime win over Virginia Tech on Sunday, the Wolfpack survived a serious challenge to its depth. Clemson wears down opponents by using a full-court press for the entire game, but N.C. State didn’t wither, despite a rotation that has been shortened by three season-ending knee injuries to key players.

KEY STAT

N.C. State, which entered the game ranked fourth in the nation in rebound margin, outrebounded the Tigers 26-13 in the first half. Led by DD Rogers and Kayla Jones, the Wolfpack posted an offensive rebound total (11) that matched Clemson’s number of defensive rebounds.

QUICK HITS

N.C. State guard Aislinn Konig shot 0 for 7 from 3-point range as her streak of 51 straight games with a 3-pointer ended. It was the longest active streak in the nation. … Clemson held the Wolfpack to 3 for 22 from 3-point range. … N.C. State has won 10 in a row in the series with the Tigers.

UP NEXT

Clemson: Gets a week off before playing host to No. 1 Notre Dame on Thursday, Jan. 31.

N.C. State: Visits Georgia Tech on Sunday after playing three of the last four at home.