CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — If ever a team needed a win like this, it was Clemson.
The Tigers came in having lost six of their past seven and have struggled to close out Atlantic Coast Conference games where they led into the second half.
That changed, at least for this game, as Aamir Simms had 17 points to help Clemson hold off North Carolina State 81-70 on Saturday.
“We definitely needed this game,” Tigers guard Johnny Newman III said. “We had some ups and downs throughout our season, but I think this is a good game to really get us going.”
It’s a boost the Tigers (7-7, 1-3 ACC) had been searching for much of the year.
They’ve struggled against Power Five opponents (going 1-6 in such games before this one) and coughed up second-half leads in conference defeats to Virginia Tech, Florida State and Miami.
It appeared it might happen again as as the Wolfpack (10-4, 1-2) cut a 14-point deficit to 53-52 on Pat Andree’s three foul shots with 11:55 to play.
That’s when Clemson responded with baskets by Newman and Curran Soctt to take some steam out of North Carolina State’s rally.
“Every time they made a run, we made a play to kind of stop their run, which was good,” said Scott, the Tulsa grad transfer.
The Wolfpack played a second straight game without leading scorer C.J. Bryce, who is in the concussion protocol.
It was a welcome win for a Clemson team that had come close to success, but could not close things out.
The Tigers led Virginia Tech with six minutes left in the ACC opener two months ago before falling 67-60. On Tuesday, Clemson was up 55-45 at home before Miami rallied for a 73-68 win in overtime.
Clemson once more came out hot and built a 14-point lead on the Wolfpack when Dawes had a 3-pointer and a layup to put the Tigers up 34-20 with four minutes to go in the opening half.
But North Carolina State finished the period with a 15-7 burst to cut into the double-digit margin.
Braxton Beverly had a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws in the run and Andree’s inside bucket got the Wolfpack within 41-35 at the break.
Daniels kept the pressure on for North Carolina State at the start of of the second half with a pair of foul shots and a driving basket to trim the lead to two.
And Andree’s tightened things even more when his foul shots cut the lead to 53-52. But the Wolfpack went cold, going more than eight minutes with just one field goal.
Still, North Carolina State was within 71-65 on Andree’s layup with 2:01 left.
Simms and Mack followed with baskets, though to rebuild Clemson’s edge.
North Carolina State coach Kevin Keatts said his team expended so much energy in coming back, it was hard to finish the job.
The Wolfpack got Clemson to “panic a little bit, but it worked against us,” he said.
DJ Funderburk led North Carolina State with 14 points.
THE BIG PICTURE
North Carolina State: The Wolfpack were missing the scoring punch that Bryce had provided this season. Their 70 points were their second fewest in a game this season.
Clemson: The Tigers had been beset by injuries and inconsistencies much of the season with point guard Clyde Trapp and forward Jonathan Baehre handling knee injuries and backups Chase Hunter and Khavon Moore also missing time. Holding off the Wolfpack will give a young team a positive lesson it can use going forward.
North Carolina State coach Kevin Keatts said there was no chance of Bryce playing at Clemson and he wasn’t sure the team’s starting guard would be back for Notre Dame next week. Keatts said Bryce’s absence hurts the team’s backcourt depth.
Clemson forward Tevin Mack had his first game scoring in double digits since early December. Mack, who had averaged nearly 11 points a game, had a total of 18 points in his past four games before catching fire against North Carolina State.
North Carolina State returns home to play Notre Dame on Wednesday night.
Clemson seeks its first-ever win at North Carolina (the Tigers are 0-59 in Chapel Hill) on Jan. 11.