In a fashion that seems routine at this point, the Tigers fell to the N.C. State Wolfpack 59-58 after leading by 18-points in the first half. The defeat came in the second round of the ACC Tournament.
In the first half for Clemson, the name of the game was three-point shooting. N.C. State played off of the Tigers, giving their guards space and daring them to shoot. Clemson made them pay and seemed to be knocking down everything, including a shot by Marcquise Reed the bounced off of the rim high into the air, eventually falling through to give the Tigers three more points. By the end of the first half, Clemson was shooting a blistering 63% from beyond the arc.
On defense in the first half, Clemson had trouble keeping the Wolfpack out of the painted area. N.C. State scored 18 of their 26 first half points around the basket, taking advantage of backdoor cuts and strong drives to the hoop. One of the biggest lapses on defense for the Tigers came when Reed got caught staring at the opposing ball handler, giving his matchup an open line to the basket along the baseline.
Despite the scoring inside, Clemson was clamping down on their perimeter defense, altering shots and contesting nearly every attempt. In the first half, N.C. State shot just 35% from the field and an abysmal 10% from the three-point line.
Heading into halftime, Clemson was commanding the game with a 42-26 lead.
The second half started off well enough with a thunderous dunk by Javan White. The Wolfpack’s effort never wavered though, as they continued to attack the basket at the beginning of the half. Before long, the shots began falling and N.C. State was able to cut the Clemson lead to single digits following a Markell Johnson three-pointer.
The Tigers struggled to score points, missing on their jump shot attempts and getting contested on their layup and drive attempts. Reed and center Elijah Thomas were able to stop the bleeding after the first few minutes though, as both were able to score and give Clemson back a double-digit lead.
A scoring flurry by the Wolfpack, lead by Johnson, reduced their deficit to just four points with a little over eight minutes remaining in the game. Momentum was already shifting in favor of the Wolfpack and it seemed to manifest itself when Shelton Mitchell pulled down a defensive rebound and attempted to go coast to coast on the fastbreak. He was just under the N.C.State basket when he put attempted a layup that was then erased by Wolfpack guard C.J. Bryce.
The last five minutes were a back-and forth battle, with Clemson lead by Reed and Thomas and Johnson carrying the load for N.C. State.
With just 2.6 seconds remaining, and with the Tigers up by a single point, Clemson guard Clyde Trapp was called for a foul on Johnson, which put him on the free throw line. On the replay, it became clear that the contact by Trapp was negligible, but that Johnson was able to sell the contact and draw the foul. Johnson sank both of his free throws to give the Wolfpack the lead, and Reed was unable to connect on a last-second buzzer beater that would have won Clemson the game.
In the second half, Clemson took its turn to shoot horrifically and converted on just 10% of their three-point attempts and shoot a dreadful 19% from the floor. Reed lead the Tigers in scoring and in rebounds with 16 and 10, respectively. For the Wolfpack, Johnson was the star of the game and finished with 23 points with 13 of those coming in the second half.
According to ESPN, the victory would have given the Tigers a 96% chance of making the NCAA Tournament. Instead, they sit around 70% and will wait with baited breath to see if their name will be called on Selection Sunday.
The NCAA Tournament Selection will take place on Sunday, March 17th.