Clemson has played three ranked opponents this season — competing hard, but coming up empty in the "W" category each time.
They led at halftime against No. 17 Gonzaga at the Old Spice Classic on Thanksgiving Day.
Early December, the Tigers had the edge as late as eight minutes left on No. 8 Arizona in Littlejohn Coliseum.
And against No. 1 Duke, their last lead came much, much earlier in the game, but Clemson (10-6, 2-2 ACC) held one of the nation’s more prolific offenses to 25 points at the half.
All three teams now line the current Associated Press top-10, at No. 3 (Duke), No. 7 (Arizona) and No. 8 (Gonzaga).
Tigers looking for marquee win
Next up is No. 14 North Carolina State (14-3, 3-1) Sunday night in Raleigh, N.C., where the Wolfpack are undefeated by an 86-63 average score in 10 contests so far.
"This year, we’ve been playing a lot of teams of that caliber and haven’t got a win," Clemson senior forward Milton Jennings said. "We’ve played them really great and had leads at times … but we always seem to lose it at the end.
"We’re going into this game with a different mindset that we can play with the top-ranked teams and that we got to find a way to win the game."
Achieving that, however, might be easier said than done.
N.C. State’s rotation features five players averaging double-figure scoring, led by junior forward C.J. Leslie (16 points per game).
Wolfpack point guard Lorenzo Brown is averaging 8.8 assists and forward Richard Howell, 13.5 rebounds per game, both atop the conference early in ACC play.
As a team, State is stout across the board offensively.
Entering the weekend, it is 11th nationally in points (79.6), 12th in points per possession (1.14), second in field goal percentage (51.5) and 16th in 3-point percentage (39.4).
"It’s a game where defensively we’re going to have to play really well," Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. "But we’re going to have to find a way to make some baskets and score some points to win this game.
"You’re not going to hold N.C. State to the low numbers that we’ve held some of the other teams to."
1/20: Clemson (10-6, 2-2) at No. 14 NC State (14-3, 3-1)
|Off. Reb. %||32.5||32.5|
|Turnover % (Amount per 100 plays)||18.4||17.5|
|Free throw rate (FT attempts/FG attempts)||36.7||43.5|
Brownell said Leslie, at 6-9, poses his biggest threat when he knocks down jumpers. Leslie is fourth in the league in field goal percentage (56.9).
"He’s athletic and he can get his shot off pretty much whenever he wants," Tigers sophomore forward K.J. McDaniels said. "And he’s so long … he’s just freakishly long.
"Going in trying to guard and stop that, it’s going to be a challenge."
It has been home-sweet-PNC Arena for Leslie in conference games, averaging 22 points and 6.5 rebounds at home compared to 11.5 points and five rebounds on the road. On the season, the junior is averaging 18.8 points a game in the friendly confines of Raliegh.
Clemson’s Jennings says his Tigers have what it takes to hold down Leslie and the Wolfpack, coming off a school-first of allowing under 45 points against consecutive ACC opponents (Virginia and Wake Forest).
"Our length and defense can keep the game in the 50s and 60s," he said. "And obviously when you do that, you have a good chance of winning the game."
Clemson is allowing 55.4 points a game, in the top-10 nationally entering the weekend. The success, Brownell says, is a by product of the young guards harassing opponents at the top of the key, and the Tigers’ big men wreaking havoc in the paint recently, "an added dimension" midseason defensively.
"(The guards)’ strength at the position and their ability to guard the initial dribbler is important," Brownell said. "That’s one of the things for Adonis (Filer) that’s overlooked for a freshman — how he guards … His on-ball defense is outstanding and Rod (Hall) has gotten to where he can guard off-ball and on-ball well."
Down-low, McDaniels leads conference play thus far in blocked shots (12) and Devin Booker is third in rebounds (10.8).
"We feel very confident, especially with Book and Milt holding the paint," McDaniels said. "Me and Rod and Damarcus (Harrison) the long guards up there — I believe we’re doing pretty good."
Putting points on the board has been another story, scoring less than 50 a game against the three ranked opponents this season (47.7). Taking some momentum into the road trip, the Tigers see Sunday's 6 p.m. tipoff (televised on ESPNU) as a bellwether for their progress since then.
"It’ll show where we are, both offensively and defensively," said McDaniels. "We have to go in there and keep our composure and play hard."