College Basketball: Clemson 87, N.C. State 76

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 10, 2007

By Bret Strelow

Salisbury Post

RALEIGH — North Carolina State coach Sidney Lowe said he was worried Gavin Grant might fall to the floor after one pass.

Grant looked that fatigued.

The struggle to win an ACC game is already wearing on the Wolfpack, which is again without point guard Engin Atsur.

Clemson, the only unbeaten team in Division I, matched the best start in school history by earning an 87-76 victory against N.C. State at the RBC Center on Tuesday night.

Atsur played against Boston College on Saturday after missing nine straight games with a left leg injury, but he reinjured his hamstring Sunday and didn’t dress out against the Tigers. Grant resumed his role as the primary ball-handler, and Lowe used only six players for the first 39 minutes.

Lowe said he will evaluate Atsur on a day-to-day basis.

“I can tell you from their point and my point it’s frustrating,” Lowe said. “I’m sure it’s frustrating for Engin as well. You’ve got your floor leader back and are ready to go into ACC play, and he gets hurt again. The whole mindset of the guys, I think it bothered them.

“Gavin, in particular, was excited about Engin coming back. Now he’s been thrust into a position that’s not his position.”

The Wolfpack (10-6, 0-3 ACC) has dropped its first three league games for the first time since the 2000-01 season. Clemson is 17-0 overall for the first time since the 1986-87 campaign and 3-0 in conference play for the first time in a decade.

Lowe’s squad shot 54.7 percent against the Tigers, but they scored 21 points off 17 Wolfpack turnovers.

N.C. State trailed 56-50 after Ben McCauley’s basket with 11:24 left, but Clemson scored 25 points over the next seven minutes. It established an 18-point lead during a second half in which it shot 62.5 percent.

“I don’t know if it was fatigue, but we gave up on a couple of plays,” N.C. State forward Brandon Costner said. “It allowed them to get some wide-open looks.”

Vernon Hamilton scored 21 points to pace Clemson. Grant led the Wolfpack with 22 points but committed six turnovers.

N.C. State freshman Dennis Horner scored 10 of his career-high 14 points in the first half, but Clemson wasted no time building on a 40-36 lead.

Shooting guard Cliff Hammonds hit a 3-pointer on the Tigers’ first possession of the second half. Hamilton made another 3-pointer following a steal by James Mays, and Sam Perry added a jumper for a 12-point advantage.

“We were never able to come back from that,” Grant said. “We were bickering amongst ourselves, and that’s not what we needed to be worried about.”

Playing out of position is a legitimate concern for Grant, a small forward.

Atsur originally hurt his hamstring in the opening minutes of a win against Michigan on Nov. 27, and Grant finished that game and started the next nine at point guard. He had 57 turnovers during that stretch but didn’t commit one with Atsur running the offense against Boston College.

Saturday’s game offered Grant a short and unfulfilling reprieve from playing the point.

“I thought that was the end of that, but you have to do what the team needs,” he said. “I’m the next best ball-handler.”

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Contact Bret Strelow at 704-797-4258 or bstrelow@salisburypost.com.

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