Final Play Execution
NC State did what it needed to do in the final minute to escape Littlejohn Coliseum with a much-needed victory.
It wasn't looking good for the Wolfpack, who trailed by four with 14 seconds left, but Lorenzo Brown knocked in two free throws to cut the lead the two.
Clemson who was still in the one-and-one bonus, inbounded the ball to senior Milton Jennings, who was fouled by C.J. Leslie but missed the front-end. Leslie, who rebounded the ball, raced up court, and Mark Gottfried called a timeout with 7.5 seconds remaining to set up the winning play.
State has several options offensively, and Gottfried decided to run a quick-hitter for senior wing Scott Wood. Wood started his run along the baseline, came off a Richard Howell screen, received a dribble hand-off from Brown, and knocked down an open 3-pointer with one second remaining that would give the Pack the victory.
"On the last offensive play for us, I thought Lorenzo [Brown], Richard [Howell], and Scott [Wood], as you want veteran players to do, executed about as well as you possibly can," said Gottfried. "You still have to make the shot, obviously, at the end of that."
"It kind of slipped a little bit," said Wood. "But once I saw it was on line, I knew it was pretty good, and had a good chance."
NC State, a team that has lost two conference games while leading with a second remaining, won their first buzzer-beater of the season, and it was big. The Wolfpack now sits at 17-7 overall and 6-5 in the ACC with winnable home games against Virginia Tech and Florida State coming up.
Winning Up Front
Clemson is led by senior big men Devin Booker and Milton Jennings, and NC State was able to neutralize them on Sunday.
Booker, who had a career-high 27 points against the Wolfpack in Raleigh, was held to just 10 on 5-of-9 shooting from the field. Howell's defense on Booker was terrific, and Leslie locked up Jennings, who was a non-factor offensively, totaling just three points on 1-of-6 shooting.
NC State's big men were much better. Howell and Leslie both posted double-doubles, as Howell finished with 16 points (7-14 FG) and 11 rebounds, and Leslie added 12 points (5-14 FG) and 10 rebounds with four blocks.
Winning the frontcourt battle was a big reason why NC State was able to knock off Clemson.
Welcome Back Lorenzo
Going in no one was sure Lorenzo Brown would even play, and he didn't start the game, but the Wolfpack's junior point guard played a pivotal role in the outcome.
NC State had lost three straight games since Brown went down with an ankle injury early in the loss at Virginia, and they've missed his playmaking ability on the floor.
When he came in he provided a big spark for the Wolfpack. State was sluggish early on, and couldn't get going offensively, but Brown came off the bench to score nine first-half points that helped the Pack trail by just six after 20 minutes.
He made big plays throughout, including two free throws in the final seconds that cut Clemson's lead to two and set up the final play. Brown finished with 15 points (6-15 FG), four rebounds and a game-high four assists in the win.
Defense Steps Up
As bad as the offense was, State's defense came through for them.
Clemson, who was 4-0 in ACC play at home prior to the game, had also shot 48.7% from the field in the four wins. State held the Tigers to just 38.6% shooting from the field.
The Wolfpack's gameplan was simple. They weren't going to let Devin Booker or Milton Jennings beat them. State doubled the post much of the game, and while it did lead to some open shots for other Tigers, it prevented Booker or Jennings from being offensive factors.
The duo hit just 6-of-15 shots, while K.J. McDaniels and Jordan Roper were relied on to be the main scoring options.
In a game where State never seemed to get going offensively, their defense played a big role in the victory.
Winning ugly is always better than losing pretty, and I'm sure Mark Gottfried and his team will take it, but State struggled for much of the game offensively against the Tigers.
It started early on, with missed layups, forced mid-range jumpers, halfcourt breakdowns, and poor spacing.
NC State, one of the top shooting and scoring teams in the country, hit just 37.7% of their shots. Freshmen Rodney Purvis and T.J. Warren played a combined 33 minutes and were 0-for-4 from the field and 0-for-2 from the free throw line.
This wasn't a good offensive showing for a State team coming off a game where they put up 85 points and shot 53% from the field against Duke.
Sharing The Basketball
It's not surprising that in a game where State didn't hit a lot of shots they also didn't share the ball as well as they normally do.
NC State had just eight assists on 23 made field goals, a very low number for one of the best passing teams in the ACC.
There was far too much isolation play out of the post, extended, unnecessary dribbling, and rushed jumpers early in the shotclock.
NC State Player of the Game
While Brown kept State in the game early on, Richard Howell was the best player on the floor for the Wolfpack.
The rugged senior forward finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds while also chipping in three assists and three steals. He made several big baskets in the second half for State and at this point is on his way to an All-ACC season.
His biggest impact may have been felt defensively, where he neutralized Booker in the post. Howell did a great job of denying Booker ideal post position, gave him different looks, and kept him off the offensive glass. He also did all of this without fouling Booker in scoring situations, as he didn't attempt a free throw. Finally, don't forget the huge screen he set to free up Wood for the game-winning three-pointer.
Just another day at the office for Howell.
Stat of the Game
+13, Lorenzo Brown's +/-
Lorenzo Brown's +/- of +13 was the highest of any player in the game. NC State outscored Clemson by 13 points with Brown on the floor.
Mark Gottfried on running a set for Scott Wood on State's final possession:
"Running a play for Scott Wood to make a 3 is like running a play for somebody to try to get a lay-up sometimes. It's about the same percentage. He's that good."