N.C. STATE 58, CLEMSON 57
By TRAVIS SAWCHIK
CLEMSON — Earlier this season, Clemson coach Brad Brownell called Scott Wood the best shooter in the ACC. The N.C. State forward combines range, accuracy and a quick release with 6-6 size to give him the ability to shoot at places and times of his choosing. As a senior, he has seen about every defensive scheme imaginable and is adept at using screens.
So even though Clemson knew what was coming, leading by two points with 7.5 seconds to play on Sunday, even though everyone in Littlejohn Coliseum knew the Wolfpack would try to find Wood, stopping it was another thing entirely.
In a season of disappointments for Clemson, Wood gave the Tigers perhaps their most devastating loss, coming off a screen to catch and shoot a game-winning 3-pointer with one second to play, giving N.C. State a 58-57 win.
“I said ‘no 3s,’” said Tigers coach Brad Brownell of his huddle speech prior to the shot. “I said they are probably going to go to Wood. Try to play on outside shoulder, be right in his numbers on every catch.”
Clemson did not foul before the shot because N.C. State would have been in the bonus.
Said Clemson’s Jordan Roper, who scored a game-high 17 points: “We didn’t want to let Wood get loose. Somehow he got loose.”
Coach Mark Gottfried’s team desperately needed a win as N.C. State (17-7, 6-5 ACC), the preseason favorite in the ACC, entered the game slumping.
Wood’s shot masked what had mostly been an impressive and spirited effort by Clemson (12-11, 4-7), which was coming off an embarrassing loss at Virginia. The Tigers led for most of the game, leading by as many as 12 points in the first half.
“A very painful loss,” Brownell said. “I thought our guys competed really hard and played well.”
Brownell made a lineup change, giving Roper and Adonis Filer starts at guard over Rod Hall and Damarcus Harrison.
“Damarcus (Harrison) and Rod (Hall) hadn’t played very well,” Brownell said. “I don’t think (Harrison and Hall) merited a start for any reason.”
While N.C. State did a better job of pressuring the ball and denying Devin Booker the ball (10 points, six rebounds) than in the teams’ meeting last month, a Clemson loss in Raleigh, Roper responded with a career-best and game-high 17 points on 6-of-14 shooting – 3-of-4 from 3 – in his first ACC start.
He also demonstrated marked defensive improvement, particularly off the ball as he recorded three steals.
Roper is the best shooter on the roster, but he’s undersized (5-10, 170) and knows he has to improve defensively.
“I think I’m a better defensive player,” Roper said. “At the beginning of the year, I couldn’t keep anyone in front of me, and I still have trouble doing that. I think I’m doing better on the ball and off the ball as a defender.”
While Roper’s development could be viewed as a silver lining, there is a concern with losses mounting Clemson could lose incentive down the stretch. Roper said the team is trying to avoid that pitfall.
“We just have to get better,” Roper said. “We just have to cut down on the little mistakes and move forward. We have to keep playing because we want to send out Milton (Jennings) and (Devin) Booker with a great year.”