CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson coach Brad Brownell wasn’t sure what he was watching in the first half as the 19th-ranked Tigers looked destined for another quick fall from the national rankings.
Then Aamir Simms hit a go-ahead basket for a second straight game and Clemson rallied from nine-points down in the second half to beat North Carolina State 74-70 in overtime Tuesday night.
“Thankfully, our guys woke up,” Brownell said, “and responded the way good teams do.”
Maybe it’s time to see how good Clemson (9-1, 3-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) can be in a power league where none of the usual powers have yet emerged.
Nick Honor, a high-scoring Fordham transfer, had 21 points off five 3-pointers, including one that tied things at 62 in the final minute of regulation.
It was Honor’s highest point total since joining Clemson after sitting out last season.
“Whoever needs to step up, can,” Honor said.
Although, it took a while for the Tigers to get going.
Clemson, tied with Virginia Tech in the rankings at No. 19, lives on its defense and entered as the ACC leader (and third nationally) in fewest points allowed. But the Wolfpack (6-2, 2-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) hit 15 of 27 shots in the opening half to lead 39-32 at the break.
They extended it to 41-32 on Manny Bates’ bucket with about 18 minutes remaining as Clemson struggled to score.
But Honor found his touch with five straight points to draw Clemson within 42-39. The Tigers were still behind 59-53 with less than five minutes left before tying things on Honor’s final 3 with 38.2 seconds to play.
“I didn’t really think about it,” he said. “I just let it go.”
In overtime, North Carolina State grabbed the lead a final time on DJ Funderburk’s 3-pointer with 3:12 to go.
That’s when Simms, a senior, got the ball down low for a basket to put Clemson ahead for good.
Simms, just 3-of-11 shooting for eight points in the game, added another bucket before Honor sliced through the lane for a layup that gave the Tigers a 72-68 lead.
Devon Daniels drew the Wolfpack within two points with a pair of free throws. But Clemson put things away on freshman PJ Hall’s inside shot that bounced off the rim before falling through with 10.8 seconds left.
Simms hit the winner last Saturday with 19 seconds to go in Clemson’s 66-65 win at Miami last Saturday that returned the Tigers to the national rankings.
Honor, a high-scoring Fordham transfer, had a season’s best in points.
Funderburk finished with 20 points while Daniels had 18 points and 10 rebounds for North Carolina State, which was looking to upset its second ranked team in three games after toppling then-17th-ranked North Carolina 79-76 on Dec. 22.
North Carolina State had little difficulty penetrating Clemson’s normally strong defense – the Tigers lead the ACC with only 56.2 points allowed per game this season – and shot 56% in the opening half including six 3-pointers.
That didn’t continue in the second half.
North Carolina State coach Kevin Keatts said his team showed composure down the stretch in its previous two victories over the Tar Heels and Boston College. “Tonight, I thought we fell apart at the end,” he said.
THE BIG PICTURE
North Carolina State: The Wolfpack showed patience and talent much of the way until the end when it was outscored 21-11 over the game’s final nine minutes. North Carolina State was looking to start 3-0 in ACC play and make a statement in a league where a true heavyweight hasn’t emerged.
Clemson: Maybe it’s time to talk Tigers in the ACC. Clemson has rallied in its past three games to defeat then-No. 18 Florida State, Miami and the Wolfpack, which came in having won four of five over the Tigers.
Get ready for your nerves to be rattled this season, Clemson fans. Brownell said his team is not a powerhouse group where supremely talented individuals can score at will. The Tigers will succeed, he said, as a collective who’ll probably have several nailbiters that come down to a possession or two. “We’ve really got to work at things,” he said.
Clemson now faces another test – trying to win two straight at North Carolina. The Tigers broke an 0-for-59 run at Chapel Hill last January with a 79-76 victory. Clemson heads back there Saturday with a chance for a streak of its own.
North Carolina State returns home to play Miami on Saturday.
Clemson plays at North Carolina on Saturday night.