After snapping its losing streak earlier in the week, the NC State men’s basketball team couldn’t keep the good momentum going, falling 70-65 to Clemson on Saturday, Jan. 8 inside PNC Arena.
The Wolfpack (8-8, 1-4 ACC) made nearly as many shots from outside the arc as it did from inside of it, but barely shot over 30% from the field while the Tigers (10-5, 2-2 ACC) pounded the ball inside, racking up 44 points in the paint.
Clemson’s PJ Hall was the catalyst of NC State’s paint troubles. The 6-foot-10 big man led the Tigers with 20 points, adding five rebounds and four blocks.
“I thought the difference in the game is, PJ Hall really hurt us,” said head coach Kevin Keatts. “When you look at their production in the post — and it's not just PJ you know, we got driven a little bit more than I would like to — but I thought we got really hurt with giving up 44 points in the paint and that's not a great formula for us to win. We've got to get better. It's not just on our big guys. Our guards got to do a little bit better job, get deflections and we got to continue to work with those guys, but give Clemson credit, they finished the game.”
Redshirt sophomore guard Dereon Seabron had yet another dominant performance, scoring 27 and adding seven rebounds. 19 of Seabron’s 27 points came after the break as he took over down the stretch to keep the Pack in it.
While he did plenty of damage the usual way, blowing by defenders in the lane and finishing at the rim, Seabron made a pair of triples in the game, marking the first multi-3 game of his career.
“He’s having an incredible year,” Keatts said. “He's really blossomed in a lot of areas. … It’s hard to argue with the year that he's having. People are game planning against him and he’s still putting up great numbers and getting rebounds. I would love to have him a little bit more aggressive in the first half. Seemed like in the second half he's kind of more in takeover mode but you know, I can't say enough about what he's done for this team so far.”
While the Pack did most of its damage from deep, freshman guard Tequavion Smith, normally one of the Pack’s go-to 3-point shooters, had an unusually poor performance. The freshman shot 0 for 7 from the field, with all seven of his attempts coming from behind the arc.
Senior forward Jericole Hellems, the third member of the Wolfpack’s usual “Big Three,” ended the game shooting just 2-of-9, combining with Smith for eight of NC State’s 15 turnovers. With Hellems and Smith underperforming, Seabron’s dominance simply wasn’t enough to get the Pack over the line.
“One of the biggest things that we didn't have, we've had three guys who have played really well offensively for us and when you look at it, you know Terquavion had an off night, which you know he was 0 for 7, which you're going to get sometimes from a freshman,” Keatts said. “And then I thought Jericole had moments but didn't play great.”
NC State ended the game going 9 for 28 from beyond the arc. Entering Saturday’s contest, the Pack averaged just under 24 3-point attempts per game. Against Clemson, redshirt senior guard Thomas Allen said that was simply the shot that was there because of Clemson clogging the lane.
“We watched film the last few days and that's kind of how they play,” Allen said. “They don't really pressure the ball like we do. They more so stay in the paint. So that's why we had a lot of 3s tonight, just because they were in the lane a lot.”
Despite shooting just 30% from the field, committing nine turnovers and enduring a lengthy scoring drought in the middle of the half, the Wolfpack entered the halftime break trailing by just two. Some solid 3-point shooting to start and end the half, as well as Clemson committing eight turnovers of its own, kept the Pack in the game.
The Wolfpack started the game with three straight makes from deep, jumping out to a quick 9-0 lead, which Clemson steadily chipped away at to eventually build an eight-point lead of its own. The Pack ended the half on an 8-2 run to cut that lead, thanks to five points from Allen and a buzzer-beating 3 from sophomore guard Cam Hayes.
NC State started the second half positively, going on a quick 5-0 run, but the positivity was short-lived, however, as the Pack went over four in-game minutes without another point.
Clemson rebuilt a small lead over that stretch, but it was unable to pull away and the Pack was right back in it. The game remained close throughout most of the second half, with Clemson consistently holding a small lead and NC State refusing to go away.
The Wolfpack struggled to guard the interior, with the Tigers getting 26 of their 40 second-half points in the paint. Sophomore forward Ebenezer Dowuona picked up his fourth foul of the afternoon with five and a half minutes left to play, making the job of stopping Hall that much harder.
With the loss, the Pack has now lost six of its last seven games, falling to 1-4 in conference play. The Wolfpack has an opportunity to rebound Wednesday, Jan. 12 as it heads to Kentucky to face Louisville. That game is set for 9 p.m. and will be broadcast on the ACC Network.