"I didn't want to give them a chance to heave up the ball or anything – so I just dove on it," Smith said.
The NC State basketball team spent all of Thursday night diving, scraping and doing just enough to survive and advance. Despite leading for almost the entire game, the Pack had to hang on to a loose ball for the final two seconds to secure a 59-57 upset over No. 6 seed Clemson in the opening round of the ACC Tournament at Greensboro Coliseum.
"I thought we showed a lot of composure under a lot of pressure," head coach Sidney Lowe said. "And when we were able to get in the halfcourt set, we were able to get good shots."
The win moves the Pack to 18-14 on the year, but more importantly advances them into Friday's quarterfinals. The Pack will take on Florida State, who lost 88-81 to the Pack in Tallahassee during the only meeting between the two teams – a game in which freshman Scott Wood scored 31 points. The game will tip off at approximately 9:30 on Friday evening.
"You have to be patient against them – they are very long," C.J. Williams said. "You have to be very active, take them away from attacking the lane and protect the ball a little bit better."
Smith led the way offensively for the Pack, who has now won four of its last five contests. The junior center scored 19 points, grabbed eight rebounds, and was the only player in double figures for NC State. Freshman Richard Howell came off the bench and finished a point short of a double-double with nine points and 11 rebounds. C.J. Williams was also aggressive off the bench, scoring eight points and hitting four clutch free throws, and Farnold Degand consistently attacked the Clemson defense on his way to nine points.
"This could have possibly been my last game, and I figured if I was going to go out I was going to go out leaving it all on the court," said Degand.
The Pack used another hot-shooting performance in the second half to stay on top, hitting 62 percent of its shots in the final 20 minutes and 52 percent overall. The hot shooting helped overcome a sloppy evening that saw them give away 19 turnovers compared to just 15 for Clemson. But the Tigers couldn't match the Pack's shooting, hitting only 39 percent of its shots from the field.
"The defense was solid," Lowe said. "We took away some of the things they like to do."
Clemson jumped ahead to start a slow-moving first half, but the Pack responded with a 9-0 run. That run helped the Pack build a lead it would keep for the rest of the half, stretching it out to as many as eight before the Tigers cut it to four with a 5-1 spurt to close out the half. The Pack took a 25-21 lead into the halftime locker room.
Despite holding the lead, neither team played particularly well in the half offensively. The Pack shot 44 percent from the floor but hit just 1-of-6 from behind the arc while committing seven turnovers. The Tigers were even worse, hitting just 36 percent of its shots, 2-of-7 from 3-point range, and coughing the ball up nine times. Both teams also struggled from the line, with Clemson going 3-of-9 thanks in large part to Trevor Booker's 1-of-6 performance and the Pack hitting on just 4-of-8 attempts.
"This is a good ballclub and they are going to score points, but overall I thought the game plan was excellent," Lowe said.
The Pack stretched the lead back out to eight points at the start of the half but Clemson again battled back, cutting it to a three-point game at the 16-minute timeout. The two teams went back and forth for most of the half, with the Pack opening a lead as large as 10 points on a Scott Wood 3-pointer only to have Clemson immediately cut it back to four.
But even as Clemson rallied in the final seconds, cutting the lead to a scant two points with a few seconds left, the Pack hung on. In the end, State led from the moment Degand hit a three-pointer to make it 7-5 until the final buzzer. Clemson has now lost 43-of-57 ACC Tournament openers and returns home on a two-game losing streak.