CLEMSON -- Down 19 points with six minutes to play in the opening half, Brad Brownell burned another timeout. The first-year Clemson basketball coach believes the college game, much more than the pro game, is about managing the spikes and lulls of momentum.
Part of the 30-second stoppage was to cool a red-hot shooting N.C. State team. But it was also to play sports psychologist. Brownell began the timeout by giving his players 10 seconds of silent treatment, an icy stare, then a message.
"Kids worry about their offense," Brownell said. "If they can't make a basket they get all frustrated. It's not your offense. In games like this, it's your defense."
The timeout talk worked. Clemson completed its greatest comeback in program history in an ACC game at Littlejohn Coliseum on Tuesday, a 60-50 win against N.C. State. To win, the Tigers dug out from a 31-12 deficit with 6:10 to play in the first half.
In the second half, the Tigers held N.C. State to 16 points, limiting the Wolfpack (12-8, 2-4 ACC) to make only seven of its final 31 shots. It allowed Clemson (14-6, 3-3) to even its conference record after both teams entered in desperate need of an ACC win. The majority of NCAA tournament projections have only five ACC teams in the field, and the Wolfpack and Tigers entered play in a five-way tie for sixth place in the league.
After first-round exits in their previous two ACC tournament and NCAA tournament appearances, including last season in Greensboro to N.C. State, the Tigers appear to be a more resilient group. Clemson has taken on the personality of players like Bryan Narcisse who seem to have an endless reserve of energy.
Narcisse closed the first half with a break-away dunk, cutting the N.C. State lead to 34-29.
Narcisse's 6-6 length was also key on defense as Clemson was again without 6-7 wing Tanner Smith (knee), who Brownell credits as one of the team's better wing defenders.
N.C. State's 6-7 sharpshooter Scott Wood was held to just six points. Highly-touted freshman forward C.J. Leslie -- a McDonald's All-American -- was held scoreless on 0-of-5 shooting.
The perimeter defense turned N.C. State into a one-man Wolfpack in Tracy Smith, who was the only N.C. State player to reach double-figures in scoring (13 points), held to one second-half field goal.
"Coach Brownell told us when he first got us that we had to get into a habit of working, he felt we've had a lot of things done for us in the past," Narcisse said. "One thing he wants to instill is a blue-color mentality. We are starting to embrace that: getting stops, making every possession count, just grinding people.
"(In the past) we didn't have that focus on every possession counting. So it was like 'OK we'll outscore teams, we'll give up points.' (Brownell said) 'If you think that's OK. It's not.'"
A Jerai Grant and-one play gave Clemson its first lead, 50-48,with 5:40 to play. The lead held. Clemson rode a wave of momentum.
Grant scored 14 points, Clemson guard Demontez Stitt scored a game-high 17.
"They just became more aggressive," N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe said. "They turned up their defense. They started going for the ball a lot more. They got more physical with us. We stood around too much. We didn't give the dribbler enough receivers.
"They know how to play hard. They know how to pick it up. This is not a young team. They have guys that have gone through this before. They have a lot of toughness."
Check out the Clemson blog at postandcourier.com/blogs/tiger_tracks and follow Travis Sawchik on Twitter (@travis_sawchik).
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