It was just one offensive rebound, but the play gave NC State a crucial extra possession with 50 seconds left and the Pack clinging to a five-point lead. It was all part of an explosive 18-point, 10 rebound performance for Leslie that helped lead the Pack past the Tigers 69-61 on Thursday night at the RBC Center.
"C.J. Leslie was outstanding – rebounds, defensively he was good," head coach Sidney Lowe said. "His energy was great. He went after a couple of rebounds that were just huge – big time plays for us."
The game gives the Pack its first winning streak in ACC play this season, and the first winning streak of any kind since early January. It also helps exact some measure of revenge against the Tigers, who came back from a 19-point deficit to beat the Pack earlier this season.
"I dunno if [our team] was trying to pay it back as much as it was trying to win," Lowe said. "We talked about it briefly a few days ago but I didn't say anything about it today."
The Pack trailed by as many as nine points in the first half but cut the lead to two at halftime and came out with a defensive fire it hasn't displayed in weeks during the second half. The Pack held the Tigers to just 37 percent shooting for the game, allowed just 10 offensive rebounds on 40 misses while grabbing 19 of its own shots on 36 misses.
The defense and rebounding allowed the Pack to control play for much of the second half – building an eight-point lead with under four minutes left and holding on for a desperately needed win.
"It's our second win in a row and it feels good to be winning," Tracy Smith said. "We still have our heads high, we still think we can make some noise."
Apart from Leslie, two other Pack players scored in double figures on Thursday. Javi Gonzalez came off the bench to score 11 points while Smith added 14 points and eight rebounds. Richard Howell added nine points and 10 rebounds, just missing out on a double-double.
"It was just a great team effort," Lowe said.
Clemson pulled ahead of State early on in the first half as the Tiger defense stifled the Pack's ability to get the ball inside to its big men. Leslie kept things within shouting distance for the Pack by showing off his outside shooting ability, hitting two 3-pointers on his way to a 14-point half.
State rallied late in the half thanks to six straight points from Gonzalez, who helped cut the deficit to 34-32 going into the locker room. While Clemson out-shot the Pack 45 percent to 42 percent, the Pack hit 3-of-7 from behind the arc – all three makes coming from their post players – to help keep it a two-point game at the break.
"Javi was outstanding," Lowe said. "He came in the game and gave us good energy defensively. He came up big – that's what we need and that's what we expect."
Improved rebounding keyed the Pack in the second half, as the home team picked up its rebounding and limited the Tigers to a single shot on many possessions down the stretch. The Pack held the Tigers to just 30 percent from the floor in the second half and scoreless from behind the arc – where Clemson went 0-for-8.
As a result the Pack put on one of its best second-half defensive performances of the season, holding Clemson to just 27 points in the second frame on its way to a come-from-behind victory.
State will try to hold onto that momentum as it travels to Maryland this weekend to face the Terrapins.