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ACC Tournament: Things to watch for during NC State vs. Clemson

bear creek 2019 ACC TournamentVirginia has to wait until Thursday to start its ACC Tournament title defense, but the Cavaliers will certainly have their eyes on Wednesday’s action with eighth-seeded NC State taking on ninth-seeded Clemson. The winner faces the Cavaliers on Thursday.

The game between the Wolfpack and Tigers is the first ACC contest of the day and tips off at 12:00 ET. It’s an absolutely crucial contest for both teams; both sit squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble. In the only matchup this season, NC State’s Braxton Beverly hit a game-winning three as the Wolfpack rallied from down six points with less than 30 seconds left to escape with a 69-67 win. Clemson’s Marcquise Reed missed four consecutive free throws down the stretch in a gut-wrenching defeat.

Virginia beat both teams in the regular season, though they were victories of very different kinds. At Clemson on Jan. 12, the Cavaliers overcame a rugged first half to win 63-43. Clemson shot just 25.9 percent from the floor, and the visitors received a big boost from Jay Huff (11 points, seven rebounds), who was inserted with the offense struggling. Clemson got as close as two points in the second half, but Virginia ran away with it from there.

Virginia’s game at NC State two-and-a-half weeks later was a very different story. The Cavaliers were extremely sloppy with 16 turnovers, gave up 16 offensive rebounds, had De’Andre Hunter and Jack Salt foul out and saw Ty Jerome suffer a back sprain mid-game. Up 66-63 with under one second left in overtime, Hunter fouled Markell Johnson on a desperation three to send the Wolfpack guard to the foul line with a chance to tie the game. But Johnson missed the first of three free throws, ending his team’s upset bid.


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Both NC State and Clemson are desperate for a win Wednesday, and whichever one wins will again be desperate for a win Thursday. A win over the conference champs would almost certainly put either into the tournament field. Any other result will have both sweating out Selection Sunday.

Here are some things to keep track of in Wednesday’s matchup:

Big man battle. Though guards lead the way for both teams offensively, the matchup down low between three throwback big men will be an intriguing one. NC State relies on a combination of Wyatt Walker and DJ Funderburk to anchor the middle of its four-guard lineups, while Clemson big man Elijah Thomas is a key part of the Tigers’ operation. Both Walker and Funderburk — who has come on strong as of late — are very good, active offensive rebounders, but that task will be difficult against Thomas, who finished fifth in the conference in rebounds per game and is especially good at securing boards on the defensive end. Thomas posted an impressive 13-point, 11-rebound performance in a regular-season-ending win over Syracuse, a victory that kept Clemson’s NCAA Tournament hopes alive. He’ll look to help strengthen his team’s tournament resume with another strong performance Wednesday.

Closing out close games. Clemson is 2-5 this year in games decided by one possession, a stat that will loom painfully large if the Tigers don’t hear their named called Sunday. Apart from that aforementioned collapse against NC State, the Tigers also lost by two against North Carolina and Nebraska and had back-to-back one-point losses to Miami and Louisville.

NC State is slightly better in this category. The Wolfpack went 2-2, with those two losses being the Virginia one and, last week, a two-point loss to lowly Georgia Tech. NC State also missed out on two great opportunities with a four-point loss to Wisconsin and a five-point loss to Florida State. Wednesday’s game could very well come down to who executes better late in the game.

Play at your pace. These two teams like to play very different styles. Clemson ranks 244th in the nation in adjusted tempo. NC State ranks 22nd. Clemson for the most part controlled the pace in the regular-season meeting, but the late free-throw woes ultimately doomed the Tigers. If NC State can play fast, it’ll have the advantage. If Clemson can slow it down and take better care of the ball — something that has troubled the team this season — they’ll have a better chance in this crucial game.

Story by Zach Pereles

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