No. 19 Clemson on upset alert against N.C. State
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Clemson has been one of the surprise teams in the country, but the Tigers had better beware in their next game.
They're facing North Carolina State, which tends to pull a surprise every now and then.
The teams meet for the second time in less than two weeks on Thursday night at PNC Arena.
Clemson (14-1, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) will arrive with a No. 19 national ranking.
Despite Clemson defeating N.C. State 78-62 in the conference opener on Dec. 30 at home, Tigers coach Brad Brownell said he knows his team needs to be on full alert.
"I feel like they're a team that when they're really playing well, they can play with anybody in the league as was evident the other night," Brownell said.
He was referring to the Wolfpack's 96-85 upset of then-No. 2 Duke on Saturday night. That was the second time this season that N.C. State has conquered a team ranked No. 2.
That outcome gave first-year N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts a victory in his first ACC home game.
"I will say this, I don't think this team ever lost confidence," Keatts said. "We had a tough start, starting on the road the first two games of the ACC. We just needed to get home and sleep in our bed and get some home cooking and it certainly worked out."
But it's the Tigers who might be the biggest surprise in the ACC. Last season, they didn't pick up their third conference victory until February.
Brownell said it's on defense where the largest change has occurred.
"We had some guys who could score, but to win some more close games and give ourselves a chance to win, we had to improve our defense," he said. "I was optimistic that our guys would work to defend. I think they've shown very good grit and perseverance to stick with it in certain games."
Clemson holds a 10-game winning streak in part because of a defense giving up 63.5 points per game. The Tigers have the ACC's second-best defensive rebounding percentage at 75.4 percent of opponents' misses.
"Sometimes you're going to struggle on offense and you have to find other ways to win. I think our guys are really defensive-minded in nature with this year's team. ... We've done a better job in coaching that."
Only two opponents have exceeded 70 points against Clemson.
Clemson is 3-0 in the ACC for the fifth time, but most recently it happened 11 years ago.
N.C. State (11-5, 1-2) has been more erratic in its performances. Since opening the season with five consecutive victories, the Wolfpack are 6-5.
Now it's a matter of moving on after knocking off Duke for a second year in a row.
"I told our guys, 'Every win that we have, I want you to celebrate and be excited about, but don't be satisfied,'" Keatts said. "Just because we beat the No. 2 team in the country, that's not what we're trying to build. We want to build a program where we can be consistent every night."
Certainly, confidence is booming for the Wolfpack.
"When we lock in and do everything right, that's the outcome we're going to get," senior forward Abdul-Malik Abu said.
N.C. State ranks last in the ACC by allowing foes to shoot 43.9 percent from the field.
Brownell is tied for the third-most wins as a Clemson coach with 137, sharing the mark with Oliver Purnell.
Updated January 10, 2018