Clemson once again fell apart late against N.C. State, and this time it might result in the Tigers missing out on a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Clemson led by as many as 18 points against the Wolfpack in its ACC Tournament opener in Charlotte before faltering down the stretch and losing 59-58.
Wolfpack guard Markell Johnson made a pair of free throws with 2.6 seconds remaining after being fouled by Clyde Trapp to lift the Wolfpack to the victory. Tigers guard Marcquise Reed had one final shot at the buzzer from just beyond half court, but his shot was off the mark.
Clemson led for all but two minutes and 33 seconds of the game. The Tigers led 42-26 at the break.
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“We obviously didn’t execute things in the second half very well. I thought kids on both teams competed at a very high level,” Tigers coach Brad Brownell said. “Proud of the way our guys fought and really disappointed with the way the game ended.”
Despite its second half struggles, Clemson still led 58-57 in the final minute but was unable to finish off the victory.
Reed, David Skara, Eli Thomas and Clyde Trapp were all called for fouls in the final 60 seconds of the game. A couple of the fouls were on purpose as the Tigers had fouls to give after being whistled for two in the first 19 minutes of the second half. Brownell said Trapp tried to foul Johnson earlier in the final seconds near the top of the key but it was not called. Instead, Trapp was called for a shooting foul on Johnson with 2.6 seconds left.
“Really disappointed with the way the game ended. Too much at stake for things to end like that,” Brownell said. “He got away and made a play down the lane and got a very good call.”
The loss came nearly two months after Clemson blew a six-point lead in the final 30 seconds in an eventual 69-67 loss at N.C. State. In that game the problem was free-throw shooting down the stretch. This time it was offensive execution in the second half.
Clemson managed only 16 points after halftime after putting up 42 in the first half.
Thomas, Clemson’s star center, battled foul trouble throughout the day and played only eight minutes and 23 seconds in the second half. He pointed to his foul trouble as the reason why the game went so differently in the second half.
“I didn’t play. I think that was a big difference,” he said. “These guys did a great job. Our coaches are great. Our young guys did great. All we can do is keep our head up.”
Clemson led 51-37 with 15:12 remaining when the Wolfpack went on a run that changed the game.
N.C. State’s 20-2 spurt turned a 14-point deficit into a four-point lead. The Tigers went 11 minutes and 15 seconds without a field goal during the run and missed 14 consecutive shots from the field.
Clemson shot 16 of 31 from the field in the first half and 5 of 31 from the field in the second. Shelton Mitchell, Skara and Trapp, three of Clemson’s six leading scorers did not score in the second half.
“Basketball is a game of runs. We had our run and they went on their run and it just wasn’t in our favor,” said Trapp, who replied “no comment” when asked about the final foul call.
Reed led Clemson with 16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, but he shot only 5-for-18 from the floor. Aamir Simms also scored in double figures, finishing with 11 points.
Johnson led the way for the Wolfpack with a game-high 23 points on 8-for-17 shooting, including the game-winning free throws.
“Markell, I thought he was tremendous down the stretch,” N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts said. “He made big threes, and then obviously sealed the game by making two big free throws. But great win for us and we survive and advance.”
Clemson now waits to learn if it will be an NCAA Tournament team. The Tigers and N.C. State were viewed as bubble teams entering the ACC Tournament, and many viewed Wednesday’s game as a play-in game for the Big Dance.
Skara 3-7 0-0 7, Simms 4-7 1-1 11, Thomas 4-7 0-0 8, Mitchell 2-12 0-0 6, Reed 5-18 2-2 16, Tyson 0-0 0-0 0, White 2-2 0-2 4, Newman 1-2 1-1 3, Trapp 1-7 1-2 3. Totals 22-62 5-8 58.
NC STATE (22-10)
Bryce 1-4 0-0 2, Walker 2-3 2-2 6, Dorn 4-9 0-0 8, Johnson 8-17 3-3 23, Beverly 2-6 0-1 4, Hellems 1-4 0-0 3, Funderburk 3-4 2-3 8, Daniels 2-9 0-0 5, Harris 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-56 7-9 59.
Halftime: Clemson 42-26. 3-Point Goals_Clemson 9-23 (Reed 4-7, Simms 2-2, Mitchell 2-5, Skara 1-5, Trapp 0-4), NC State 6-21 (Johnson 4-9, Hellems 1-2, Daniels 1-4, Dorn 0-2, Beverly 0-4). Fouled Out_Thomas. Rebounds_Clemson 37 (Reed 10), NC State 27 (Dorn 12). Assists_Clemson 13 (Reed 6), NC State 10 (Johnson 4). Total Fouls_Clemson 15, NC State 12.