By Justin Mathis
Clemson, S.C.– In front of a sellout crowd, five Tigers finished in double figures and the Clemson defense once again imposed their will on an opponent. Marcquise Reed had another stellar game and helped lead Clemson to a 78-62 victory over the North Carolina State Wolfpack.
It was a defensive struggle in the first half as neither club could find a consistent rhythm offensively, which in turn didn’t allow the Wolfpack or Tigers to hold a lead larger than nine points during the first half. NC State only knocked down nine of their 33 attempts (two for 10 from the arc), while Clemson made 12 of their 35 attempts (five for 14). The shooting woes for the Wolfpack came one game after they shot 64.7% from the field and hit 19 three-pointers in a route of Jacksonville
Clemson used a 14-2 run to take a 33-24 lead into the halftime break.
“It was a good way to start league play,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “It was a sellout crowd with a lot of energy. I was very pleased for my players to be able to play in that type of environment. I thought both teams were a little excited early, a little edgy, turned it over, & it got a little ugly. I thought both teams were prepared defensively, so it made it harder for both teams to get into an offensive rhythm. The longer the game went on, I thought our guys did a really good job of building into a rhythm in the game.”
For North Carolina State, this marked their fourth game in a row without starting point guard Markell Johnson, who is currently suspended due to an off the court situation. When big men Omer Yurtseven and Abdul-Malik Abu got into foul trouble, it eventually overwhelmed the ‘Pack.
“I thought the game changed near the end of the first half,” NC State coach Kevin Keatts explained. “I thought our guys fought all the way to the end. I thought we had too many breakdowns defensively. Our half-court defense was solid against their sets, but we got caught ball-watching a lot and certainly gave up a lot of easy plays… I just think that (Clemson) had a few more easy plays go their way and it changed the game around.”
In the second half, things began to open up for the Tigers as they navigated through the 1-2-2 full court press, a defense that has become a signature of a Keatts-coached team. Clemson was also able to create numerous opportunities in transition and had some strong finishes at the basket, including a couple of fast break dunks from Donte Grantham and Mark Donnal.
Clemson’s starting five finished with double-digit point totals, led by Marcquise Reed with 18 points, scoring 13 of them in the second stanza. Gabe DeVoe, followed by Shelton Mitchell with 14 and Donte Grantham with 13. Elijah Thomas notched a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, while also blocking six shots. For Thomas, he’s put a lot of emphasis on defense dating back to the offseason.
“For me, I want to be the anchor of the defense,” Thomas stated. “(I have) so much pride (in wanting to take on the role). I credit coach (Antonio) Dean, coach (Steve) Smith (and) all of our coaching staff – they were on me the whole preseason about basket protection and being an anchor. It helps these guys (like Reed) that we play so fast because I’m able to protect the rim, grab a defensive rebound, and outlet to them. If I can do my job, it makes it easier on them and we can win these games.”
When asked if they’re concerned about not getting attention from national media for their hot start so far to the 2017-18 season, Thomas had a straight forward answer.
“From my understanding, everybody wants to see how we play in conference,” Thomas said. “Last year, we had a similar record and we dropped the ball in conference. We’re not worried about how much attention we get – we just want to win these (ACC) games.”
Clemson (12-1, 1-0 ACC) is off until January 3rd, 2018, when they will travel to take on Boston College at 7 PM. The NC State Wolfpack (10-4, 0-1) will pay a visit on that same night to Notre Dame at 9 PM, where Fighting Irish coach Mike Brey will be looking for his 394th win in South Bend, which would move him past Digger Phelps for the most wins all-time as Notre Dame head basketball coach.