Pack Wins A Thriller

CLEMSON, SC -- Cameron Bennerman hit a 3-pointer at the end of regulation to force overtime, and No. 14 NC State battled past a pesky Clemson squad 94-85 in a double-overtime contest that was a huge victory for the Wolfpack.

NC State came out on fire to open the game, drilling 6-of-9 after the opening tip to take an early 15-10 advantage. Both teams were hitting shots from behind the arc, but after taking a 21-15 lead, the Wolfpack had a six minute scoring drought midway through the first half that allowed the Tigers to reel off a 9-0 run and take a 24-21 advantage.

The Wolfpack proceeded to follow that run with a 9-0 spurt of its own, highlighted by a 3-pointer from Tony Bethel and another three-point play from the senior point guard. Two late free throws from Grant and Atsur gave the Wolfpack a 38-34 lead at halftime.

NC State hit 12-of-29 shots in the opening half, shooting 44% from the field while knocking down 7-of-14 from beyond the arc. The Pack had eight assists and just six turnovers while limiting Clemson to 45% shooting and only a +3 advantage on the glass. Clemson entered the contest as the ACC's top offensive rebounding team, but in the first 20 minutes the Wolfpack held its own on the boards.

Led by Engin Atsur, NC State reeled off five straight points in the opening minute of the second half, taking a 43-34 lead and forcing Clemson to use a timeout. Atsur scored on a midrange jumper and knocked down a deep 3-pointer after receiving a pass from Cedric Simmons in the post.

Both teams traded baskets following the timeout, and Clemson seemed to receive a spark after Vernon Hamilton's fastbreak layup cut NC State's lead to 48-40. The Tigers would battle back to narrow the Wolfpack's lead to four points after a dunk from Akin Akinbala, but Cameron Bennerman drilled a deep 3-pointer on NC State's next possession to give the Wolfpack a 55-48 advantage. But Akinbala's dunk on the ensuing possession and two free throws from Sam Perry brought Clemson within three points with 9:33 remaining.

NC State and Clemson struggled to score as both had problems from the field over the next few minutes, but after two more Clemson free throws made it a one-point game, Tony Bethel hit a floater in the lane to give the Wolfpack a three-point advantage. State thought they had a cushion after a steal and dunk by Bennerman, but referee Mike Wood called a technical on Bennerman for hanging on the rim, and Shawan Robinson converted the two free throws for the Tigers. Clemson tied the ballgame 62-62 on a deep 3-pointer from Hamilton, and the crowd was in it with four minutes remaining.

The Wolfpack bounced back to take a 69-66 advantage on two free throws from Cedric Simmons, but Hamilton again came up big for the Tigers. The junior point guard drilled a deep 3-pointer to tie the game and then stole the ball from Evtimov on the Wolfpack's next possession and passed to Sam Perry who hit a floater to give Clemson a 71-69 lead with 1:26 remaining.

NC State managed to hold on defense after a turnover, but Atsur was called for traveling with 12.4 seconds left and the Wolfpack looked defeated, as they had to foul Hammonds. The Clemson sophomore hit the first free throw, but missed the second, and NC State raced down the court looking for an open 3-pointer. Bethel penetrated into the lane and found Bennerman wide open in the corner and the senior drilled the shot with 2.7 seconds left to send the game into overtime.

In overtime Clemson and the Pack exchanged leads, and with the ballgame tied Atsur fouled out after going over Robinson's back. The Raleigh native knocked down two free throws for the Tigers, giving Clemson a 79-77 advantage with 59 seconds left. NC State hit two free throws in the final minute, and had a chance to take the lead with seven seconds left, but Simmons missed the second attempt. Hamilton came down and couldn't get off a shot, and the game went to a second overtime.

NC State managed to seize control of the game early in the second overtime. Evtimov hit four straight free throws, and after a defensive stop, Bennerman drilled another 3-pointer, this time from the top of the key to give the Wolfpack an 86-79 advantage with 2 minutes remaining. Steve Allen hit a free throw for Clemson, but the Pack countered with a fast break layup from Evtimov, pushing NC State's lead to 88-80. The Tigers cut the lead back down to six points, but the Wolfpack hit free throws down the stretch to survive a tough contest against a pesky Clemson team, 94-85.

NC State shot 49% from the field and an impressive 52% from beyond the arc, knocking down 15-of-29 3-point attempts. However, the Wolfpack had 21 turnovers that allowed Clemson to stay in the contest.

Evtimov had a huge game, as the redshirt senior tallied 22 points and 10 rebounds. The combo forward scored seven points in the second overtime, proving to be the difference down the stretch. Four other Wolfpack players scored in double figures, led by Bennerman and Atsur who 17 each. Bethel added 14 points and six assists, and Simmons tallied 12 points, 10 rebounds, and four blocks.

Next up for NC State (16-4, 5-2) are back-to-back home conference games against Virginia and Maryland respectively.

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