Engin Atsur pointed, yelled and cheered. But Engin Atsur did not play.
Sitting on the sidelines yet again, the street-clothed senior could only watch and plead as Clemson used its pressure defense and outside shooting to remain the only undefeated team in the nation, taking an 87-76 win out of the RBC Center on Tuesday night.
"We need him to play," coach Sidney Lowe said. "We have to get him healthy and get him back on the floor."
Atsur was back for one game, but re-injured himself about 30 minutes into practice on Sunday. Atsur is once again game-to-game, with no clear timetable for a return. Just as ACC play gets into full swing, the status of State's most experience player is up in the air again.
"It's kind of frustrating knowing that he isn't going to play and that we have to go out there without our point guard," sophomore Ben McCauley said.
Without Atsur, the Pack went back to a six-man rotation. Clemson (17-0, 3-0 ACC) countered with a nine-man rotation to press the Wolfpack (10-6, 0-3), scoring 21 points on 17 NC State turnovers.
"We thought we could wear [NC State] down tonight," Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said.
Gavin Grant led all scorers with 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting, but also committed a game-high six turnovers as he shifted back over to the point to fill in for the injured Atsur. McCauley put in another solid line with 15 points, nine rebounds and eight assists while Dennis Horner and Brandon Costner each added 14 points.
Vernon Hamilton led the Tigers with 21 points, while K.C. Rivers and Garner native James Mays each added 16. As unlikely as it may seem, Clemson remains the sole undefeated team in the nation.
"They are undersized at some positions but they make up for it with speed and aggressiveness," Grant said. "They just know how to play – winning is winning and they won the game."
The Pack stayed right with the Tigers for most of the first half, jumping out to a four-point lead to start before Clemson went on a 16-2 run to take control. Down as much as 10 in the half, State staged a comeback to get withing four points at the break.
But Clemson came out firing to start the second half, burying a pair of 3-pointers to turn a four-point lead into 10 before fans got a chance to get back to their seats. State never got any closer than the halftime score, as the Tigers bumped the lead up to as much as 18.
"They just outworked us," Grant said. "We came out too flat in the second half, they hit back-to-back 3s to go up and we were never able to come back."
Clemson shot a blistering 62 percent in the half, and shot 52 percent from behind the arc for the game. Every time State would start a rally, Clemson would drain an outside shot to suck the life back out of an exhausted Wolfpack team.
"We gave up on a couple of plays," Costner said. "I dunno if it was fatigue or what, but we allowed them to get some wide open looks at 3s. Those just break momentum."