Another Big Road Test

CLEMSON – Clemson's road toward its first NCAA Tournament berth since 1998 will likely be decided over its next five games as four of them are on the road.

WHAT: Clemson (18-6, 6-4 ACC) at N.C. State (15-9, 4-6 ACC)
WHEN: 3 p.m.
SPREAD: Clemson by 5.5
TV: Raycom

It goes without saying teams that are tournament bound with a decent seeding win on the road.

And it begins today with a 3 p.m. game at N.C. State, a team that has struggled and one that the Tigers have beaten handedly in its last two meetings. Without question, this is a game Clemson should win, as indicated by it being favored by 5.5 points.

"I think this is a pretty big stretch for us because we're hitting the road," said Tigers senior guard Cliff Hammonds, who is averaging 21.75 points over his last four games. "We've got to change things and get some wins on the road."

The last two seasons have seen the Tigers on the proverbial tournament bubble. But their constant failure to win when they need to always prevented them from getting into the big dance.

Not anymore, says forward guard K.C. Rivers.

"It's right there in our grasp," he said. "You can taste it, it's so close."

However, all admit that today's game isn't a given. The Wolfpack are the type of team that plays in spurts, sometimes good, sometimes bad.

"This is a different ball club," Rivers said. "They've got their head on straight. This is not the same team we played earlier this year."

A win by Clemson would give it seven league wins, meaning it would likely need just two more victories to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

"It we get this win, it will really set us up in the top half of the ACC," senior forward James Mays said. "If we lose, we'll fall back to the rest of the pack and that's not where we want to be."

The game also has special meaning to Mays for another reason. He grew up just outside of Raleigh and this is his last trip back to his home. He is looking for as many tickets as he can scrounge for family and friends.

"It's going to be like a homecoming," he said. "It's going to be a lot of fun. Everyone who doesn't get a chance to see me here at Clemson is going to be there."

But more than that, what's at stake for the Tigers as a whole is what's most important. Head coach Oliver Purnell said this is one of the more essential games of the year.

"What I've kind of learned is that if you do well in the league, you've got a good chance of getting into the tournament," he said. "It seems like what you do early in the year is forgotten."

Clemson (18-6, 6-4 ACC)
G 25 Cliff Hammonds (6-3, 200) 12.1 ppg, 4.0 apg
F 1 K.C. Rivers (6-5, 215) 15.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg
C 35 Trevor Booker (6-7, 240) 11.4 ppg, 8.0 rpg
F 40 James Mays (6-9, 230) 10.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg
F 32 Sam Perry (6-5, 215) 2.8 ppg, 2.1 rpg

N.C State (15-9, 4-6 ACC)
G 10 Javier Gonzalez (6-0, 176) 3.1 ppg, 1.5 apg
G 4 Courtney Fells (6-5, 205) 11.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg
C 1 J.J. Hickson (6-9, 242) 15.4 ppg, 8.2 rpg
F 11 Gavin Grant (6-8, 208) 14.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg
F 34 Ben McCauley (6-10, 238) 6.0 ppg, 3.6 rpg Top Stories