Just three days after having one of those games that many ACC fans have become accustomed to No. 14 NC State having, the Wolfpack nearly lost their second consecutive game.
But that didn’t happen thanks to a big three-point play from Richard Howell and 21 points off the bench from freshman T.J. Warren. Back-to-back turnovers in Clemson’s final two possessions sealed the Tigers’ fate, as NC State held on for the 66-62 victory.
Three Wolfpack starters scored 11 points apiece with Howell grabbing 12 rebounds in addition to his 11 points to keep NC State (15-3, 4-1 ACC) within a game of first-place Miami in the loss column.
Devin Booker was unstoppable at times for the Tigers, scoring a game-high 27 points on 13-of-18 shooting and grabbing six rebounds. Rod Hall added 16 for the Tigers, who drop to 2-3 in ACC play (10-7 overall) and saw their two-game conference win streak come to an end.
NC State looked to be well on their way to an emphatic victory following their loss at Maryland on Thursday night as they scored the first ten points of the game (Rodney Purvis scored six of the ten). But Mark Gottfried’s team allowed the Tigers to hang around, with Booker proving to be a very difficult matchup for Howell and C.J. Leslie inside.
After a Milton Jennings three-pointer tied the score at 57 with 2:23 left in the game, Howell would give NC State the lead for good on a three-point play with 1:55 remaining.
A big question for the Wolfpack going forward has to be whether they can duplicate their Sweet 16 run of a season ago with essentially a six-man rotation. Warren outscored the Clemson reserves 21-4 in 25 minutes of action, with Tyler Lewis (six minutes) and Jordan Vandenberg (four) playing ten minutes combined.
That bench minute distribution has been commonplace for NC State, and as long as the starters don’t get into early foul trouble players such as Howell, Leslie, Lorenzo Brown and Scott Wood will be on the floor (Howell is the only member of that quartet not averaging at least 32 minutes/game).
Should the shallow bench be a concern for NC State as they get closer to March? As long as everyone remains healthy they should be fine, but the Wolfpack aren’t operating with the greatest margin for error either.