RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Trevor Booker scored 20 points and No. 24 Clemson held on to beat North Carolina State 73-70 on Saturday.
Tanner Smith added 11 points,including two late free throws, for the Tigers (15-3, 3-1 Atlantic Coast Conference). They never trailed but blew nearly all of a 21-point lead before coming up with two key defensive stops in the final minute to snap a pesky streak of letdowns that dated to 1997-98.
Julius Mays had 17 points for the Wolfpack (12-6, 1-3), who trailed 71-70 and had the ball when Jerai Grant appeared seemingly out of nowhere to block Richard Howell's open layup with about 35 seconds left. Clemson milked some clock before Smith hit his free throws with 18.6 seconds left and N.C. State called its final timeout.
The Tigers refused to give Wolfpack sharpshooter Scott Wood an open look, and Mays' 3-pointer with about 5 seconds left went around the rim and out with the rebound going out of bounds under the basket. Mays launched a desperation 30-footer that went off the front of the rim.
Grant finished with 11 points for the Tigers, who have been plagued by the letdowns that have followed some significant victories. After beating a ranked team, they had lost the following game 14 consecutive times before this one - which down the stretch bore a strong resemblance to the Tigers' most recent attempt. After upsetting then-No. 12 Butler in November, they blew a 23-point lead and lost to Illinois.
But this time, Clemson, which routed North Carolina by 19 points last time out, made just enough plays to hold off an N.C. State team that was trying to win consecutive games against ranked teams for the first time since 2006-07.
Tracy Smith scored 16 points, Howell finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds, and Farnold Degand and Wood added 11 points apiece for N.C. State, which was coming off an upset at No. 25 Florida State.
This one certainly didn't seem like it would be headed to a tight finish after Clemson took apparent control with an overwhelming first half highlighted by two big runs.
The Tigers opened the game on a 14-5 burst, then used a 16-2 run midway through the half to push the lead into double figures. Demontez Stitt capped the second run by driving the lane for a layup that made it 36-16 with 4:45 left, and Clemson went up 43-22 on Grant's layup with 2:13 left.
Meanwhile, the Wolfpack went without a field goal for 10 minutes - including a 7-minute stretch in which they managed just one field-goal attempt. But that was well before Mays helped tighten this one considerably, hitting a one-hander to cap a run to start the half and make it 54-48 with 12:15 to play.
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