"It was on target but it was kinda deep. I was falling back because the pass was kind of long," Mays said. "But I thought it was good."
The ball bounced harmlessly off the rim though, denying NC State an amazing comeback story. Trailing by 17 points at halftime, the Wolfpack clawed its way back into the game slowly and steadily, getting as close as one point with 18 seconds to go. But two free throws and Mays' miss allowed Clemson to escape the RBC Center on Saturday afternoon with a 73-70 win.
"We need to get off to a good start," Sidney Lowe said. "We've had some trouble there the last few ballgames and we can't dig a hole the way we've been doing."
"If we come out with the same energy early that we came out with when we were coming back, we would be fine."
The Pack (12-6, 1-3 ACC) shot just 39 percent from the floor and just 19 percent from behind the 3-point line but still managed to rally in the second half. They did it by limiting the Tigers (15-3, 3-1) offensively and by committing just 11 turnovers for the game while out-rebounding Clemson 39-to-28. Still, it wasn't enough to overcome the atrocious first-half defense that allowed Clemson to score 45 points.
"We didn't come out with enough energy – the Florida State game we came out with a ton of energy but today we came out flat and it put in a hole early," Scott Wood said. "Everything we did in the second half we didn't do in the first half.
Mays led all scorers, coming off the bench to score 17 points including a perfect 8-for-8 from the free-throw line. Tracy Smith added 16 points and nine rebounds while Richard Howell picked up his first double-double with 13 points and 12 boards. Wood and Farnold Degand also scored in double figures, with each player getting 11 points in the losing effort.
Starters Javi Gonzalez and Dennis Horner combined for just two points and four turnovers in just 23 minutes of play.
"We have some guys that just aren't playing well right now," Lowe said. "It's showing in their minutes played, its showing when the game is on the line."
The Pack had no answer for the Clemson attack from the opening tip onward. Defensively, they allowed Clemson to shoot 60 percent and forced just four turnovers from the Tigers. Booker was a monster inside for Clemson, scoring 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the half. On offense when the Pack tried to slow the game down, they couldn't find good shots in the halfcourt. When they tried to speed the game up, they made mistakes.
The Tigers allowed the Pack just seven field goals in the half and for a 10-minute stretch didn't allow a single field goal. The only thing that kept the deficit inside of 30 points was the Pack's free-throw shooting, where they scored 12 straight points at one point and finished 13-of-16 overall. The Pack shot just 31 percent in the half, made just 1-of-9 from 3-point range and committed seven turnovers. The lead ballooned to as many as 21 points in the half, but the Pack finished on a 6-2 run to make it 45-28 going into the locker room.
"I was very disappointed with our first half defense," Lowe said. "We weren't very active. We had some guys that didn't play tough and didn't rebound. I was very disappointed in a couple of our guys today."
But as lifeless as the home team looked in the first half, they came out of the locker room ready to battle back. Behind a line-up of Howell, Wood, Mays, Degand and Smith the Pack held down the Clemson offense and got the kind of open looks they weren't getting in the first half.
When Smith sank one-of-two free throws at the line with 1:52 left in regulation, the Pack trailed by just a point. Howell had an opportunity to take the lead on the next Pack possession, but his shot was rejected to give Clemson the ball and force Pack to foul. Tanner Smith then hit two free throws to extend the lead to three, and the Pack couldn't connect on two 3-point attempts from Mays to give the Tigers the win.
"We knew we had to pick up the level of intensity if we wanted to put ourselves in a position where we could win the game," Degand said. "We did that for the most part, it worked out for us a little bit. But we still came up short."