Tigers stay hot, dominate NC State in ACC opener
|Saturday, December 30, 2017, 6:09 PM- -|
A lengthy layoff couldn’t cool Brad Brownell’s Tigers as they opened ACC play with a 78-62 win over NC State.
With both sides eight days removed from their last action, a nine-point Clemson (12-1) halftime lead ballooned over the second session thanks to a rout in points in the paint, stout defense - and therefore a healthy advantage in turnovers.
NC State (10-4) came into the game leading the ACC in turnover margin, but finished minus-5 on Saturday, outscored 24-10 in points off turnovers.
Employing a full-court press, the Wolfpack had come in with opponents reaching at least 16 turnovers in 8 of their first 13 games.
"They are very aggressive and very good at what they do," Brownell said of NC State's defense. "And they mix it up three or four different ways on you to try to distract, and if not to steal the ball, throw you out of flow and not have good rhythm when you attack offensively whether you break it or not. The decision-making of knowing when to attack and getting into a flow offensively is critical when you play these guys."
"The longer the game went on, I thought our guys did a really good job of kinda building into a rhythm in the game and to have 17 assists to only nine turnovers for 40 minutes was good."
Clemson compounded the visitor’s problems by a 42-22 point in the paint edge - frequently slicing through the Wolfpack defense for open layups - and on the perimeter, they held the Wolfpack to 5-of-22 shooting on 3-pointers.
After starting 0-of-4 from the field, Marcquise Reed recovered to lead all scores with 18 points, adding six rebounds and five assists. He was joined in double figures by Gabe DeVoe (15; plus 7 rebounds), Shelton Mitchell (14), Donte Grantham (13; plus nine rebounds) and Elijah Thomas (10; plus 10 rebounds).
The blowout decision extended Clemson’s winning streak to eight games, where six of those have come by double-digits.
"I think this is a real statement game to set the tone in the ACC," Reed said. "Our guys played with great confidence, shared the ball and played together."
The win moved Brownell into sole possession of the most ACC victories (regular season and tournament) of any Tigers coach historically (60).
Clemson’s long-range shooting helped turn around a slow start.
The Tigers hit only four of their first 22 shots, but a Grantham trey cut the NC State lead to 16-13 with eight minutes to go. The versatile senior posted a productive first half, tying DeVoe with nine points in the first 20 minutes and adding six rebounds and an assist.
Back-and-forth up to the final couple minutes in the first half, Reed knocked down his first shot of the half - from behind the 3-point line - to go up 25-22 and get the Littlejohn Coliseum crowd into it. A layup from Reed extended the Clemson lead to 31-24 with under a minute left and Grantham recovered a DeVoe miss for a layup at the buzzer to take a 33-24 edge into the break.
Clemson hit 5 3-pointers in all in the first period and finished 7-of-19 on treys.
NC State missed its final seven shots in the first half and nine-straight into the second session.
"They've got a good basketball team," first-year NC State coach Kevin Keatts said. "What makes them really good is they've got really good balance. Even tonight when I looked at the box score, they've got all starters in double-figures and you look at Elijah Thomas who didn't have a great game because of foul trouble and he had a double-double and Grantham had nine rebounds. What makes them unique is they played together last year. They were able to make some mistakes and were able to grow on it.
"My toughest thing is I'm blending a couple seniors, two freshman and two fifth-year transfers and I'm trying to get them to play like a team like Clemson who has played together for such a long time. It's all a part of building a program."
The win is a third-straight over the Wolfpack and a second-straight ACC opener win.
As of Saturday evening, Clemson moved to No. 13 in the RPI rankings.
Clemson returns to action at 7 p.m. in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts against Boston College (10-4) on RSN, where Brownell hopes the Tigers can build on the strong start. Last season, they started 11-2 and finished 17-16 (6-12 ACC).
"I think we're playing good basketball," Brownell said, "but we were playing good basketball then. You've just got to keep working and making sure the team goals are the most important things. That's not easy to do through a full season. But I think if we can stay together and stay connected in that way - we're going to have a chance to be really successful.
"This team has worked really hard in terms of practices and meetings and that's a credit to the leadership of this team. Donte and Gabe have done a good job - Shelton has done a good job of having guys attention and that has to continue for us to do well."