The Clemson Tigers (7-7, 1-3 ACC) got their first conference win of the season over the North Carolina State Wolfpack (10-4, 1-2 ACC) on Saturday afternoon with a final score of 81-70. The Tigers never trailed, leading from buzzer to buzzer and were led by Aamir Simms who ended the outing with 17 points on 4/7 from the field, four rebounds and five assists. Simms got plenty of help from his teammates with Al-Amir Dawes, Tevin Mack, Curran Scott and John Newman III all scoring in double figures for the game.
The Tigers got off to a strong start led by Newman and Simms and jumped out to an 11-4 lead only four minutes into the game. Clemson was able to extend the lead to 16-7 with 13 minutes to go in the half before the Wolfpack scored seven straight points in the paint and brought the score back to within two. A series of 3-pointers and a stretch of good defense allowed Clemson to get the lead to the highest it would be throughout the game at 32-18 with just under five and a half minutes to go in the half. NC State then went on an extended 17-9 run to end the half, and went into the break down just six with a score of 41-35. Despite the run to end the half, Clemson looked the best they have in a while in the first period. The Tigers shot 8/17 from 3-point range in the first half and had only 5 turnovers. They also had 12 assists on 13 made baskets in the half.
The second half looked like it would fit in with the narrative of the season as NC State slowly started to chip away at the lead the Tigers had built in the first half. With a series of small runs, the Wolfpack was able to pull within one point at 53-52 with just under 12 minutes to play. The Tigers went cold from deep, going 1-11 in the second half from 3-point range and struggled at times to get good looks. Several difficult shots allowed them to maintain a narrow lead until a Curran Scott corner three with 4:54 remaining gave the Tigers an eight point edge. The lead never dipped below six points from that point on. A big fast break basket by Aamir Simms, a couple of strong finishes around the basket by Tevin Mack and a series of clutch free throws from Al-Amir Dawes helped the Tigers exit the court with a convincing 81-70 victory.
This was a total team effort for Clemson. Five Tigers scored in double figures and the steadying presence of Clyde Trapp allowed other players to shine. He may not have shown up extensively in the box score (1 point, 5 rebounds and 3 assists with 3 turnovers and 0/4 shooting), but he was most definitely an impact player in the game. His defensive effort on Markell Johnson and steadying hand starting the offense kept the Tigers afloat when the game got tight. Aamir Simms filled the role of team leader on offense and the team rallied around its leading returners from last season.
The Clemson coaching staff also had a nice plan for this game and they stuck to it. An endless barrage of backdoor cuts and slipped screens broke down the NC State defense and resulted in tons of points in the paint for the Tigers. Unlike many outings this season, the Tigers were able to hold onto a lead with under eight minutes to go and hit their free throws down the stretch to put the game out of reach.
It was a very balanced team performance for North Carolina State as well, despite losing the game. All seven of the players that entered the game for the Wolfpack ended the night with at least six points and their leading scorer, DJ Funderburk had 14. CJ Bryce’s absence and a slow night for Markell Johnson from deep (1-6) and NCSU overall (5-21) doomed the Wolfpack.
Clemson goes into a week long break before their next game at Chapel Hill on January 11th. Both squads have struggled with injuries this season and Clemson will yet again attempt to snap the 59-game losing streak (yes, 59) against UNC in Chapel Hill. North Carolina State hosts Notre Dame on Wednesday after Notre Dame matches up with Syracuse later Saturday at 4:00pm.