Crunch Time For State

There's a level of mental toughness that the Wolfpack must display in order to move past its recent shortcomings.

There's a three-game losing streak and there's no longer the opportunity to reach the 11-win mark in the ACC -- that was something coach Mark Gottfried said the Wolfpack would need to be in good shape for at-large consideration for an NCAA Tournament bid.

But at 7-6 in the conference, possibilities remain for the Wolfpack, which goes to Clemson on Saturday for its only meeting of the season with the Tigers.

"I believe we're going to really bounce back," guard C.J. Williams said. "We want to play again. We know we can be a lot better."

After losing 86-74 to rival North Carolina on Tuesday night, the Wolfpack has three regular-season games remaining. Recent games have been marred by inconsistent stretches, and the team is facing its first three-game slide of the season.

"Regardless of what happens, you have to bring your 'A' game every night mentally," Gottfried said.

BY THE NUMBERS: 14-3 -- The Wolfpack's record when leading at halftime, as it has trailed at the break in only nine games this season, though it couldn't hold a 16-point halftime edge at Duke.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We don't believe in excuses. We just weren't able to make shots (against Florida State)." -- G C.J. Williams, whose team made six first-half shots from the field in scoring 26 points against Florida State after a 46-point first half two days earlier at Duke.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME:
-- at Clemson, Feb. 25
KEY MATCHUPS:
Wolfpack F C.J. Leslie will meet resistance in the lane from some athletic interior players for Clemson. N.C. State will aim to contain Clemson's guards and try to avoid allowing the Tigers to crank up their offense.

STAR WATCH: Sophomore F C.J. Leslie has done his part to carry the offensive load despite the Wolfpack's recent losses. Leslie showed his abilities against big and physical teams from Florida State and North Carolina, combining to go 17-for-31 from the field in back-to-back games.

He averaged 22.5 points in those games and left little doubt that he can compete against the elite teams. Now his chore will be helping elevate the play of his teammates around him.

PLAYER NOTES:
-- Junior G Scott Wood has hit one 3-point basket in each of the last three games, all losses. He has gone a combined 3-for-15 from long range in those games. "Somewhat of a slump, maybe a little tired and maybe a little bit how teams have guarded him, too," coach Mark Gottfried said. "So I don't know that it's just one of those."

-- Sophomore G Lorenzo Brown was the leading scorer or second-leading scorer in the last three games, all against nationally ranked opponents. In the last two games, he was one of two players in double-figure points for the Wolfpack, joining sophomore F C.J. Leslie. Brown has 179 assists this season, moving onto the top 10 list at the school for single-season assists.


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