Tigers hand Pack heart-breaking loss

RALEIGH, N.C. -- NC State battled back from an 11-point halftime deficit to take a three-point lead in the final minutes, but K.C. Rivers and Terrence Oglesby hit huge shots to lead Clemson back to a 71-64 victory.

If NC State's at-large hopes were put to rest on Saturday afternoon, K.C. Rivers and Terrance Oglesby put the nails in the coffin.

When Courtney Fells drained a 3-pointer to give NC State a 62-59 lead with three minutes remaining in the game, it looked like the Wolfpack was poised to win yet another nail-biter. But visiting Clemson just wouldn't cooperate.

Rivers immediately responded with a dagger 3-point shot with Fells in his face. Senior Gavin Grant put in two free-throws to give the lead back to the Pack, only to have freshman Oglesby drain another improbable 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down.

"Even when he shot it I was like 'I'll take this,'" senior Gavin Grant said. "He was fading out of bounds and everything – but tough shot, kid's a shooter. He made the shot, did what he was supposed to do."

A turnover by the Pack gave the ball back to Clemson and Rivers promptly hit an off-balance jumper from the free-throw line to make it a 3-point game. The Tigers hit their free-throws from their and the Pack offense falter in the last minute of play, giving Clemson a 71-64 win on Saturday afternoon at the RBC Center.

"I really can't get upset with our team effort tonight," Grant said. "Some other nights I might be disappointed, but I just couldn't get upset. Coach himself said he couldn't get upset."

The loss to the Tigers (19-6, 7-4 ACC), the Pack's (15-10, 4-7) third straight, puts the team in a precarious situation in the conference. With five games left State sits at 4-7, needing to go near-perfect to get back to .500 in league play and have a realistic shot of making the NCAA Tournament as an at-large bid.

"We probably we need to win all five to get to where we want to get to, or at least go 8-8 and win some games in the tournament," Grant said.

"Every game after this is a must-win for us."

J.J. Hickson set an ACC record for freshman with 23 rebounds for the Pack, surpassing Ralph Sampson's mark of 22 rebounds set in 1979. The big man also had 13 points for yet another double-double.

"J.J. was incredible," Lowe said. "I told the guys at the half that if J.J. doesn't get the rebound, Clemson will. He played a great game with the other team pressing him."

Gavin Grant led the Pack with 18 points and also grabbed seven rebounds. Courtney Fells was the only other Wolfpack player in double figures, scoring 17 points on 6-for-11 shooting from the field.

The Pack jumped out to a quick lead in the first half, grabbing a 11-5 advantage that quickly melted as Clemson crashed the offense boards for multiple second-chance opportunities. The Pack offense was woeful in the first half, shooting just 22 percent and going 0-for-9 from behind the arc. Clemson wasn't much better by shooting just 30 percent but made up for its lack of touch with plenty of put-backs, taking a 34-23 lead into the locker rooms.

State took most of the second half to complete its comeback, as the Pack heated up from the field and behind the arc. Fells hit the Pack's first 3-pointer of the game with just under 16 minutes left on the clock, then added another one a few minutes later to make it a one-point game. But the Pack couldn't quite get over the hump, trading buckets with Clemson until finally taking the lead on another 3-pointer from Fells with 3:29 remaining in the game.

"A lot teams would buckle when Courtney hit that 3 with two or three minutes left," Grant said. "But they stuck with it, made some big shots."

After Rivers and Oglesby put the Tigers back in control with three straight big shots, the Pack offense crumbled. In the final two minutes State had six possessions, three of them ended in turnovers and the other three ended in missed shots. That and a few free throws from Clemson put the Pack in a do-or-die situation as arch-rival North Carolina comes into town on Wednesday night.

"We have to have that game," Grant said. "It will look real good to get a win over a top-5 team like Carolina."

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