CLEMSON, S.C. — Down by two with 7.5 seconds left, North Carolina State coach Mark Gottfried said the decision in the huddle was simple – get the ball to one of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s best 3-point shooters and let him determine if the Wolfpack ended up with a badly needed win or a four-game losing streak.
Scott Wood delivered on his coach’s confidence, burying the 3-pointer with 1 second to go to give the Wolfpack (17-7, 6-5 ACC) a 58-57 win over Clemson on Sunday.
That the ball went to Wood wasn’t a surprise. He’s the third-best 3-point shooter in the ACC this season, hitting 43.5 percent from behind the arc. Tigers coach Brad Brownell knew it too, telling his team in the huddle with 7.5 seconds left to go: “No 3s. They are probably going to go to Wood.”
However, the Tigers (12-11, 4-7) pinched in toward Lorenzo Brown, back after missing two games with an injured ankle, as he drove to the basket, and Wood made it off the screen with just enough room from the right side to get off the winning shot. He said he wasn’t sure it was good at first, but teammate Tyler Lewis was already on his way to celebrate.
“I was jumping up and down as it left his hand,” Lewis said.
The Wolfpack were the preseason pick to win the ACC, but fell to .500 in the league and out of the top 25 with a three-game losing streak that started when Brown left a 58-55 loss to Virginia with an injured ankle in the first half. Without the junior guard, N.C. State lost on a last-second tip-in to ACC leader Miami and a potentially dispiriting loss to Duke that saw the Wolfpack down by 21 at halftime. N.C. State looked listless to start Sunday’s game, trailing Clemson by 12 in the first half.
Richard Howell led N.C. State with 16 points and 11 rebounds. C.J. Leslie added 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Wolfpack.
Freshman Jordan Roper led Clemson with a career-high 17 points in his first ACC start. K.J. McDaniels scored 12 points and Devin Booker added 10 points and six rebounds for the Tigers.
“We were in a position again where we could have bowed our heads and lost some effort. We didn’t do that and found a way to win the game,” Gottfried said.
The Wolfpack have six days off – valuable time to rest for a team that played just seven players on Sunday <– and end the season playing just one team in their last seven games with a winning ACC record.
“Sometimes you just need a win,” Gottfried said. “It’s nothing a few wins can’t cure. This is big for our team right now.”
Brown scored 15 points and played 32 minutes in his return. Along with his assist on the game-winning shot, he also hit a pair of free throws when he was fouled on a drive with 14 seconds left and the Wolfpack down four.
Then the final, winning play showed why Brown is so important to his team, Gottfried said.
“He drew the defense, he didn’t panic, he had great poise and flipped it to Scott at the exact right time,” Gottfried said. “That comes from experience. He didn’t get into a hurry and panic and turn it into a bad play. He let it develop with a great awareness of how much time was on the clock.”
Clemson’s Milton Jennings missed the front end of a 1-in-1 with 12.3 seconds left, setting up a loss that Brownell called painful and tough.
“To lead the game for most of the game and then obviously walk away in the last second a loser – it’s a tough day,” Brownell said.
Wood hit a 3-pointer to open the game, but Clemson quickly took the lead back. The Wolfpack took their second lead of the game on Howell’s layup with nine minutes to go, but McDaniels hit a 3 and Booker make a basket to put the Tigers ahead again.
Former Laney standout Rod Hall would score six of the next eight points for Clemson, including a drive that put the Tigers up 57-53 with 19.3 seconds left.
Brownell started two freshmen in his backcourt as he tried to shake up things after Clemson looked lost in a 78-41 defeat to Virginia on Thursday. Brownell said Roper and Adonis Filer looked better in practice than Hall and Damarcus Harrison and he thought his team needed a shake up after being crushed by the Cavaliers.
Brownell was left thinking his team played hard and made a lot of improvement Sunday right up to the last seconds. The Tigers held the ACC’s best shooting team to just 38 percent shooting (23-of-61) from the field, but the Tigers had 17 turnovers.
“We turned the ball over too much and unfortunately didn’t make a late free throw and missed a layup that could have sealed it,” Brownell said. “N.C. State hit a big shot and won.”