The star of the game was Wolfpack freshman forward C.J. Leslie, and it wasn't really even close. The 6-foot-8 combo forward kept State in it early on and showed why he is in contention for ACC Rookie of the Year honors.
Leslie finished the game with 18 points and 10 rebounds, both game-highs, and he hit 7-of-14 shots including 2-of-3 from behind the 3-point line. He made big plays throughout that impacted the game's outcome, and that's what the Pack needed.
While star Tracy Smith had just two first-half points, Leslie totaled 14 on 6-of-10 shooting. His two 3-pointers both came in the first half, with the Pack needed them most as the rest of the team was just 7-of-21 in the opening 20 minutes.
Leslie's impact came on the boards in the second half, when he recorded eight of his 10 rebounds, including five on the offensive end.
Overall this might have been Leslie's best performance of the year against a quality team. He has now put together two stellar back-to-back outings after serving a one-game suspension.
His effort and energy was noticeable on both ends of the floor, and when he brings it the Wolfpack will have a chance to beat teams in this league.
PLAYER OF THE GAME - CLEMSON
Demontez Stitt had a solid game, but senior center Jerai Grant was even better for the Tigers.
Grant, coming off a terrible performance versus North Carolina, finished with 13 points, five rebounds, and two blocks on 6-of-11 shooting from the floor.
He was really good the first 11 minutes of the second half, giving State all they could handle in the paint while also knocking down a jumper and finding Milton Jennings cutting backdoor for a layup.
Surprisingly, down the stretch the Tigers went away from Grant. He attempted just two shots over the final nine minutes, both jumpers that he missed. His last made basket, a pull-up jumper, cut State's lead to one at 52-51 with 9:28 to play.
STAT OF THE GAME
19 Second-Chance Points. NC State's ability to secure offensive rebounds and capitalize was arguably the deciding factor in the game.
In the loss at Clemson, the Tigers outscored State 13-0 in second-chance points. NC State, a solid rebounding team, was held to zero in that stat. Last night, the Wolfpack had 19 second-chance points to 13 for the Tigers... a +6 total that led to the outcome.
A big reason for the improvement was the fact that NC State actually received production from the power forward position this time around. C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell, the Pack's two four-men, were awful at Clemson. The duo combined to total just three offensive rebounds and finished 0-9 from the field.
They were much better in the RBC Center. Howell totaled nine points and 10 rebounds in 16 minutes of action. He hit 2-of-4 shots and grabbed six offensive rebounds during his time on the court. Leslie grabbed another five offensive rebounds to give State 11 total offensive boards from the power forward position. That's the type of production NC State needs from Howell and Leslie, two very good rebounders.
Going forward NC State needs to win certain statistics to be a successful team, and one of them is second-chance points. They did that last night.
PLAY OF THE GAME
One play in particular stands out, and you guessed it, C.J. Leslie made it.
State led 63-58 with 1:27 remaining after Milton Jennings scored on an offensive putback for the Tigers. Clemson elected to play out the possession, looking to get a stop defensively, and they nearly did. The Wolfpack ran its offense and worked the shotclock down to the final seconds.
Javi Gonzalez was isolated on the left sideline and used a ball screen to come down the baseline towards the basket. Clemson's defenders crashed down and it forced Gonzalez to take a tough mid-range jumper with a couple of seconds on the shotclock, and C.J. Leslie, who set the original screen, flew in from the 3-point line to secure the offensive rebound with 51 seconds left on the clock.
Leslie quickly passed the ball back out to Gonzalez who was fouled on the play and sent to the line. Gonzalez made both free throws, pushing the Pack's lead to seven.
Huge play by Leslie. Clemson could have had the ball going the other way down five with the Wolfpack's point guard out of position and unable to help in transition. Instead, State adds two points at the free throw line and is able to drop back and set up defensively after the made free throws.
NC State (14-11, 4-7 ACC) now has a couple of days off before returning to the hardwood Sunday night on the road against Maryland (16-10, 5-6 ACC).
The Terps are coming off a tough road loss to Virginia Tech.
This will be the first and only matchup of the season between the two teams. Maryland is led by sophomore center Jordan Williams, the ACC's top post player. Williams is fifth in the ACC in scoring (17.1 ppg), first in rebounding (11.7 rpg), and first in field goal percentage (54.9%).
Tip-off for NC State and Maryland is set for 5:30 on Sunday in College Park. The game will be televised on FSN.
C.J. Leslie received a lot of ink after the game for his play, and rightfully so, but NC State wouldn't have won this game without the effort it received from senior point guard Javier Gonzalez.
The senior point guard came off the bench to score 11 points and dish out three assists with just one turnover in 18 minutes of action. Gonzalez was 3-of-5 from the field, and he hit five-of-six free throws in the final minute to seal the win.
The Wolfpack's other senior, Tracy Smith, was bad in the first half, but he turned it around in the final twenty minutes.
Smith had just two points on 1-of-5 shooting in the first half, and that basket was the Pack's first of the game. He bounced back to hit 4-of-10 shots and 4-of-5 free throws for 12 points to close out the game.
Smith was much more assertive offensively and it led to increased production.
Not sure what Lorenzo Brown did to Karl Hess, John Cahill, and Ted Valentine, last night's officials, but he should probably apologize to them either way. Brown was 0-of-7 from the field and fouled on at least four of those shot attempts, all no calls.
Overall last night's officiating was as bad as it had been all season.
Williams hit a contested jumper with the shotclock running down to give State a 54-53 lead at the 6:54 mark, and that would be the last lead change of the game. Williams also scored a couple of possessions later on an offensive putback to push State's lead to five at 58-53. Those were the only two shots Williams made in the game.