RALEIGH, N.C. – At the beginning of the contest, members in the N.C. State student section started chanting, “The streak ends here. The streak ends here.” As it turned out, they couldn’t have been more wrong.
The No. 14 Clemson basketball team shot an incredible 62.5 percent from the field in the second half to pull away and bury the Wolfpack 87-76 Tuesday night at the RBC Center and remain undefeated on the season.
The Tigers tied a school record with their 17th straight win and improve to 3-0 in the ACC. They are also the only undefeated team in the nation.
“We’re just trying to soak it all in,” said senior point guard Vernon Hamilton, who a team-high 21 points, while also grabbing five rebounds and dishing out five assists. “We’re 17-0 right now, but it doesn’t stop here.”
There were several times when the understaffed Wolfpack (10-6, 0-3 ACC) made runs and pulled with in a couple points of Clemson. But each time, the Tigers weathered the storm and ultimately pushed the lead back to double digits.
Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said that is the sign of a mature team.
“I think that’s what good teams do, when you don’t pull away, you still stay in control,” he said. “On the mental side, they understand where they are. They understand their identity. When things get tough the get back to their roots and concentrate on defense.”
N.C. State managed to shoot 54.7 percent for the game, but the pressure by the Tigers forced 17 turnovers. Conversely, Clemson committed just eight turnovers, which is the lowest ever for a game under Purnell.
The stat of the game is points off turnovers, where the Tigers had 21 and N.C. State only four.
“The pressure Clemson had didn’t bother us and we hung in there (in the first half),” Woflpack coach Sidney Lowe said. “The second half we turned the ball over right away and they started pounding the boards. Experience definitely took over. They stuck to their game plan and got it done.”
It’s the ability by the Tigers to keep cool when things get a little hairy that has helped them get to this incredible start. No matter the circumstance, they never seem to get rattled.
And as the streak continues, the goals change on the fly.
“Our big goal was getting into the NCAA Tournament by any means necessary,” Purnell said. “Now, we feel like we’re competing for the ACC title, for the top seed in the conference tournament. This is the last unbeaten team in the country, so we should expect to win.”
That attitude was never more evident than to start the second half. With the Tiger leading 40-36 at the break, they came out in the second half and went on a roll and outscored N.C. State 12-3 in the first 3:26 of play.
It was a special night for, not only Hamilton, who had family members on had, but also for forward James Mays, who grew in Raleigh, and K.C. Rivers, who is from Charlotte. Both players had tons of family and friends on hand.
Neither disappointed as they each scored 16 points. Mays added five rebounds and Rivers five. Both also had two steals.
“This is the first time I’m playing at home and I just wanted to play good in front of my family,” Mays said. “I couldn’t let them down.”
Most importantly, he didn’t let his teammates down and he helped send those same N.C. State students the exits early.
“Right now, we’re able to stay under control and play at our own pace,” Hamilton said. “It feels good to have other teams chasing us.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Vernon Hamilton
The senior point guard connected on 6-of-7 shooting in the second half and scored 16 of his 21 points to help the Tigers pull away from N.C. State. He also dished out five assists and grabbed five rebounds. He only committed on turnover in 32 minutes of play.
TURNING POINT: The start of the second half when Clemson went on a 12-3 run to put some distance between itself and a pesky Wolfpack team.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “They expect to win and they’re experienced,” Purnell said of his team. “This group is used to winning games and now they expect to win them.”