RALEIGH — NC State couldn’t afford to worry about style points, not when it expected a defensive struggle against resurgent Clemson on Saturday afternoon.
“I told them before the game, ‘You’re going to have to win every type of game,’” NC State coach Kevin Keatts said. “I knew this was going to be a grind-it-out game.”
Keatts proved prophetic, even though his team surged to an 18-point lead early in the second half before struggling to score for long stretches. Nonetheless, the Wolfpack earned their third win in four Atlantic Coast Conference games, 60-54.
Markell Johnson had 13 points and five assists to lead the Wolfpack (13-5, 4-3 Atlantic Coast Conference). Clemson had beaten NC State in the teams’ Jan. 4 meeting, the start of a three-game winning streak for the Tigers (9-8, 3-4).
NC State shot 50% to take a double-digit halftime lead and Clemson couldn’t overcome shooting struggles from the field and the free-throw line. When NC State took a 47-29 lead with 15:27 remaining, it seemed well on the way to an easy win. But Clemson battled back to cut the lead to 56-50 with 1:21 remaining.
Aamir Simms led the Tigers with 18 points, 12 coming in the first 7 ½ minutes, and 11 rebounds. After that initial burst, NC State focused more on Simms, and the results showed it. Simms hit five of his first seven shots but then missed six of his final eight.
“When a guy like that at my position, when he starts getting off, I just want to lock him down,” NC State forward D.J. Funderburk said. “I just want to make sure he doesn’t put the team on his back. When he’s playing well, they’re whole team is good.”
NC State took a 36-24 halftime lead when Devon Daniels scored 12 of his 13 points.
Funderburk finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds for the Wolfpack, while C.J. Bryce added 11 points and nine boards.
Clemson led early in the half, overcoming missing its first five shots.
The Tigers took a 15-8 lead, with 12 of the points coming from Simms. However, from that point, Clemson missed nine of its final 12 shots of the half. Overall, Clemson was 9 for 23 from the free-throw line (39%) and shot 38% from the floor.
Clemson coach Brad Brownell said NC State made an adjustment to slow Simms and that the Tigers didn’t help themselves with poor shooting.
“After that, they did a better job on him, and we didn’t have much help today,” Brownell said. “Obviously, when we go 9 for 23 at the line, that’s difficult to overcome. Too many empty possessions.”
NC State was 11 of 22 from the floor and 11 of 15 from the free-throw line in the first half. The Wolfpack played most of the game without starting forward Manny Bates, who left with a neck injury after getting tangled with Simms at the 11:40 mark of the first half.
Keatts did not provide an update on Bates after the game, saying that the coaching staff elected to hold him out.
Clemson: The Tigers couldn’t maintain the January momentum that started with a victory over the visiting Wolfpack. Clemson followed that victory up with its first win at North Carolina in 60 tries and then upset No. 3 Duke on Tuesday. Simms, who scored 25 against the Blue Devils, started hot against NC State but cooled off after scoring 12 of his team’s first 15 points.
NC State: The Wolfpack has recovered from a 1-2 start in the conference to win three of the past four. The return to the starting lineup of Bryce, sidelined by a concussion in late December, gave the Wolfpack a boost. He missed NC State’s ACC losses to Clemson and Virginia Tech. Bryce played 21 minutes off the bench in the Wolfpack’s 80-63 win over Miami on Wednesday and all 40 on Saturday.
NC State guard Braxton Beverly had just three points in seven minutes, but his one basket was critical. With NC State leading 56-50 and the shot clock running out in the final minute, Beverly hit a baseline 3-pointer on a feed from Johnson to clinch the victory. … Funderburk, who was 5 of 6 from the floor, had the first double-double of his career (13 points, 11 rebounds). … Clemson’s starting five was a combined 3 of 17 from 3-point range. … Tevin Mack had 12 points for the Tigers, but he needed 13 shots and four free-throw attempts.
Clemson: The Tigers host Wake Forest on Tuesday, marking their fifth game in a row against North Carolina-based conference foes.
NC State: The Wolfpack have a quick turnaround, playing next at Virginia on Monday night.