Simply put, Clemson's game at North Carolina State on Saturday got a little more interesting after the Wolfpack knocked off No. 25 Florida State in Tallahassee, Fla., Tuesday night and the Tigers followed with a 19-point demolition of North Carolina the next night.
In a highly competitive start to the Atlantic Coast Conference race, both teams can make an early bid to join the front-runners. Recent history would point to Clemson (14-3, 2-1) as the early favorite. After losing eight of nine games against N.C. State between 2000 and 2006, the Tigers have dominated the series of late, winning four straight meetings by an average of 11.5 points.
But even after the Tigers' convincing win over the Tar Heels, junior guard Demontez Stitt was readying for Raleigh.
"It's a trap game," said Stitt, referring to the Tigers' challenging upcoming schedule. "It's going to be up to the veterans on this team to make sure we keep that focus. As veterans we know what to expect going to N.C. State, we've been there. We have to make sure the younger guys are prepared."
Even coach Oliver Purnell was quick to push the win over North Carolina to the background.
"This is an early ACC win, which is good for our team, but you don't see me smiling yet," Purnell said. "I'm looking down the road at what's coming."
The next three games, beginning with Saturday's trip to N.C. State (12-5, 1-2), will certainly bring Clemson's season into clearer focus. After the Wolfpack, the Tigers face Georgia Tech on the road and then host Duke.
The Tigers could use another strong defensive performance in the post from Trevor Booker and Jerai Grant to keep the Wolfpack's Tracy Smith in check. Booker and Grant limited North Carolina's Ed Davis and Deon Thompson to a combined eight points and nine rebounds Wednesday night.
N.C. STATE UPDATE: As disappointing as Saturday's loss to Virginia was, Tuesday's win at Florida State was just as impressive.
Backing up that upset with a victory Saturday over another ranked team, Clemson, could put life back into the Wolfpack's season, which, to this point, has included few signs that Sidney Lowe's club was NCAA Tournament-worthy.
North Carolina State improved to 12-5 with Tuesday's win in Tallahassee, the first in a difficult three-game stretch that concludes at home against Duke. But the Wolfpack knows it still has plenty of room for improvement before it can start envisioning playing in deep into March.
Before the Florida State game, the Wolfpack's best win was at Marquette, a part of an 8-1 start.
But since that Dec. 5 victory, it's been up and down for the Wolfpack.
Will upending the Seminoles, who are considered to be in the upper tier of the ACC, be the kind of victory that will help North Carolina State build confidence and stabilize the season?
Saturday's home game against Clemson will certainly tell us more.
Junior F Tracy Smith, the team's leading scorer and rebounder (16.8 points, 8.8 rebounds/game) , needs to be smarter with his fouls. Against Florida State, he picked up his third foul, hedging on a pick, early in the second half and finished with a season-low seven points. Smith is too important to the Wolfpack to get into foul trouble.
Same goes for PG Javier Gonzalez (10.5 points, 4.4 rebounds/game), who also got into serious foul trouble early in the second half against the Seminoles.
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