Clemson (19-13) shot the lights out in the first half, going 8-of-13 on 3s. That sharpshooting gave the Tigers an early lead. They led 36-18 at one point and shot 52 percent in the first half to lead by 16 at the break
But NC State refused to give up, battling back from as many as 18 points down.
Clemson leads 42-26 at the half in Charlotte. Keatts won’t be happy with that half— Joe Mazur (@joemazurabc11) March 13, 2019
"We talked about halftime: it wasn't about Xs and Os," Wolfpack coach Kevin Keatts said. "It was about how much heart and desire and effort you would put into it. And I told them, I said: 'If you played extremely hard, we'll come out with a win.' And these guys were special."
Markell Johnson, who finished with a team-high 23 points, gave the Pack a lead by draining a 3-point shot with 5:30 left to go in the game. The teams then went back and forth, with neither team leading by more than a couple points for the rest of the game.
Markell is on another incredible planet right now— Mark Armstrong (@ArmstrongABC11) March 13, 2019
But in the end, the Wolfpack won as Johnson was fouled and sank two free throws with 2.6 seconds left to seal the game.
Keatts has said the team's pressing style and aggressive philosophy is enough to keep it in any game, even facing a big deficit. That proved true Wednesday in a noon game with a start so flat Keatts joked afterward his team played like they didn't wake up "until about 1 o'clock."
"I think this team is built for that," Keatts said, and he added, "I don't want to be in that position all the time."
The Tigers had a final chance after Johnson's free throws, but Marcquise Reed's heave from a few steps inside of halfcourt wasn't close.
"We obviously didn't execute things in the second half very well," Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. "I thought kids on both teams really competed at a very high level. Proud of the way our guys fought and really disappointed with the way the game ended. ... Too much at stake for things to end like that."
Reed scored 16 points for the ninth-seeded Tigers (19-13), who dominated the first half in a rematch of a game won by the Wolfpack 69-67 on Braxton Beverly's buzzer-beating 3-pointer in January.
The No. 8 Wolfpack will move on to play top-seeded Virginia on Thursday at 12:30 p.m.
Clemson made just 6 of 31 shots (19 percent) after halftime, including a run of more than 11 minutes without a basket and nearly seven minutes without a point.
Torin Dorn finished with 12 rebounds for the Wolfpack.
It's unclear whether NC State will need to pull the upset of the Cavaliers to get into the NCAA tournament. Before Wednesday's game, some basketball analysts regarded NC State-Clemson game as a play-in of sorts for an at-large bid into the tournament.
As for the other ABC11-area ACC teams (UNC and Duke), they will undoubtedly make the NCAA tournament. The only question that remains for those teams is will they land a No. 1 or No. 2 seed.
UNC tips off Thursday at 7 p.m. against Louisville, a 75-53 winner against Notre Dame on Wednesday.
Duke will take on Syracuse after the completion of the UNC game.
If UNC and Duke both win their quarterfinals matches, they will meet for the third time this year with a spot in the ACC Tournament final on the line -- as well as a likely No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.