NC State falls flat against Clemson in final home game

The Tigers shot nearly 60% from the floor

Clemson's RJ Godfrey and NC States' LJ Thomas go after a loose ball during the Tigers’ win Saturday in Raleigh. (Ethan Hyman / The News & Observer via AP)

RALEIGH — Clemson came ready and left the Wolfpack shellshocked in NC State’s final home game of the season, a 96-71 Tigers win Saturday afternoon at PNC Arena.

Both of the Wolfpack’s biggest losses this season have come at the hands of the Tigers, and Saturday’s defeat was the most points NC State has allowed this season.

“Clemson was clicking on both ends of the floor,” said NC State coach Kevin Keatts. “I thought they were great. This team hasn’t been the team that gives up 96 points. Clemson hasn’t been the team to score 96 points. But I think it was their night. They made shots and a lot of times, when you make shots, everything goes well for you.”

The Tigers immediately started making shots and were up 33-15 in the first 10 minutes. The lead never dipped below double digits after that and the Wolfpack’s deficit got as high as 30.

“It’s so hard when you’re playing catch up,” Keatts said. “We’ve been behind, but we’ve never been behind at that deficit. It was just because we didn’t defend and the game kind of got away from us. I thought we had moments where we chipped away in the second half, but you’d make a 5-0 or 6-0 run and you’re still down by a lot.”

Clemson had little trouble doing exactly what it wanted, shooting 59.6% from the field and 52.6% from beyond the arc — and it didn’t matter if the shots were wide open, contested or off the bounce. 

“Today we played great, but some of that is shooting,” said Clemson coach Brad Brownell. “We made some shots and that opened things up a little bit, and then we scored some layups in and around the basket. You have a couple of games a year where things really go well for you.”

“The fact that we made a bunch of shots just really helps get your defense set and be organized.”

Keatts said his team didn’t defend well enough to allow its offense to keep the Wolfpack in the game.

“The Wake Forest first half, I didn’t think we did a great job of defending,” Keatts said of NC State’s home game Wednesday against the Demon Deacons. “But we outscored those guys. I thought we did an awful job of defending against Clemson.”

The lone bright spot for NC State was once again DJ Burns. The big man put up 24 points — his third game of the season scoring over 20 — and led the team with six rebounds and two blocks. 

“He’s a great player and, man, does he have great touch,” Brownell said. “The underrated skill is his dribbling. For a guy that size to have that kind of ball control, it’s not as easy as it looks to do that. To back guys down and make all those plays.”

While Burns found success, it was another tough outing for Terquavion Smith. The sophomore guard has found himself in a bit of a shooting funk, and it continued against the Tigers.

Smith ended up going 3 for 15 in the first half and 2 for 9 on 3-pointers. Clemson swung momentum early by early knocking down shots as Smith and State struggled to find the basket.

And when Smith isn’t scoring, it puts even more pressure on the other starters because the Wolfpack hasn’t managed to have many contributions from its bench. Clemson’s bench outscored NC State’s 15-6 on Saturday.

“We have a little bit of a younger bench, so sometimes we’ve had a couple of nights where our younger bench hasn’t been able to either sustain or play as well, but today I thought some of my guys did well,” Brownell said. “That’s critical in these games that you make a couple of subs and you don’t have big letdowns.”

The Wolfpack will now try to put this game behind them and turn their attention to Tuesday’s regular season finale against Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium, where the Blue Devils have yet to lose this season.

“It was a tough game,” Keatts said. “I didn’t like it, I’m sure they didn’t like it. We have to move past it and figure it out. One thing I will say about this team is that we haven’t gotten too high or too low. We’ve been able to look at the games for what they were.”