Clemson University

Tigers able to hold off Wolfpack surge for win

N.C. State's Gavin Grant battles Clemson's Cliff Hammonds, K.C. Rivers and Sam Perry for a rebound.
N.C. State's Gavin Grant battles Clemson's Cliff Hammonds, K.C. Rivers and Sam Perry for a rebound.

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Before freshman guard Terrence Oglesby knew it, his summary of Saturday's final three minutes had unknowingly morphed into a roll call of Clemson's bench.

David Potter's three free throws in the last 44 seconds first came to mind. Demontez Stitt's defensive pressure caused the steal when N.C. State could have made it a one-possession game.

And last but certainly not least, there was Sam Perry's jaw-dropping blocked dunk with 0:24 left that put the cherry on top of Clemson's 71-64 triumph in the Wolfpacks' den.

"I keep bringing up so many different names," Oglesby said.

The names behind the late-game execution were as much the story of the Tigers' heroics as the flawless finish itself.

Nearly a week removed from a potentially debilitating collapse at then-No. 3 North Carolina, Clemson (9-6, 7-4 ACC) returned to the Triangle and perhaps buried any lingering doubts about its ability to close tight games.

"To lose a tough game like that and to come back in solid fashion with no hangover and then come on the road and win, that's impressive," coach Oliver Purnell said.

"This team has been through a lot of things. We've been through this situation before, that's really it, and our mantra is whatever goes wrong, let's guard more. It's kind of ironic that's what showed up."

After N.C. State (15-10, 4-7) erased an 11-point halftime deficit to go ahead 62-59 with 3:28 remaining, the Tigers overcame momentum and widespread foul trouble to inch one step closer to an NCAA tournament at-large berth.

Clemson remained tied with Maryland for third in the ACC as four teams appear to be separating from the pack.

In the 17 seasons since the ACC adopted a 16-game schedule, the Tigers have only been as good as 7-4 in league play just one other time (1996-97). Furthermore, they have already tied the program's second-highest conference win total in that span.

"Hopefully, some of the doubters will shut up and quit doubting us now," senior forward James Mays said.

At a minimum, Clemson silenced a crowd of 18,985 at RBC Center that had every reason to believe the home team was set to cap off a stunning comeback.

With Mays and center Trevor Booker saddled with foul problems throughout, N.C. State imposed its will for much of the second half, netting baskets on 11 of its opening 14 possessions to eliminate its halftime deficit.

The Tigers thus had no apparent answer for 6-9 freshman center J.J. Hickson, who finished with 13 points and 23 rebounds -- the single-game high for a freshman in ACC history.

Hickson, however, got the ball in scoring position only once in the final seven minutes -- and even then, Clemson delivered in the clutch.

Down 62-59, Rivers drained a spinning 3-pointer from the right wing with 2:52 remaining to trigger a streak of three straight possessions in which the Tigers sank a jumper with under five seconds to go on the shot clock.

Senior point guard Cliff Hammonds, the star of Clemson's last four contests and its primary ball-handler, fouled out on N.C. State's ensuing possession.

Yet the Tigers were unfazed.

Oglesby, a 6-2 guard, sidestepped 6-8 defender Gavin Grant to swish another 3-pointer with 2:03 left to give them the lead for good, 65-64.

After a Mays steal, Rivers dropped in a fadeaway foul-line jumper with 1:15 remaining.

"I thought I was hot, so I wanted to get the ball in my hands," Rivers said.

"Cliff grabbed me and said you have to pick it up. I'm used to doing that in pickup. I kind of felt in that moment, like the old days, just having fun."

Two Potter free throws increased Clemson's advantage to 69-64 with 0:44 left, and Stitt followed by pressuring N.C. State point guard Javier Gonzalez into a backcourt turnover.

Twenty seconds later, Perry denied a Hickson dunk to send the Tigers off in style. The Wolfpack went scoreless the final 2:35.

"Last year, we were in the same position every game but weren't coming out on top," Perry said. "Finally, we're coming out on top. We don't have any time to waste."

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