RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Mark Gottfried talked before the year about the challenge that awaited North Carolina State as the preseason Atlantic Coast Conference favorite.
If his players didn't believe him then, they do now.
Freshman T.J. Warren scored 21 points while Richard Howell scored the go-ahead basket with 1:56 left to help the 14th-ranked Wolfpack hold off Clemson 66-62 on Sunday night.
Howell finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds for the Wolfpack (15-3, 4-1 ACC), who never trailed yet still found itself in a tight game against a league opponent that wouldn't go away. And with this one coming just days after losing at Maryland on a last-second basket, N.C. State is finding out that opponents are bringing a little something extra for the now-favored Wolfpack.
"I feel like every time we go somewhere, the team's getting up to play us," Howell said. "We need to start expecting that so we don't come out like we did against teams like Oklahoma State (in November) and lose games like that."
N.C. State scored the game's first 10 points and led by nine early in the second half, but needed plenty of key plays in the final minutes along with a couple of miscues by Clemson to improve to 11-0 at home.
Howell's three-point play broke a tie while Scott Wood's 5-for-6 performance at the line in the final 28 seconds helped N.C. State keep its grip on the lead.
The Wolfpack had upset then-No. 1 Duke here last weekend for the program's first 3-0 ACC start since the 1988-89 season, only to follow that with the 51-50 loss to the Terrapins on Wednesday night.
N.C. State entered with the league's top offense at nearly 80 points per game, but it failed to reach 70 points for just the fourth time all season against the Tigers (10-7, 2-3). The Wolfpack also had to withstand a career-high 27 points from Devin Booker, who spent most of the game mauling Howell and C.J. Leslie inside.
"I just think that part of being in a league like this is you're going to grind some out," Gottfried said. "It isn't always going to be glamorous. You've just got to find a way to keep winning."
Rod Hall added a season-high 16 points for Clemson, including the tying three-point play with 3:37 left. The teams then traded baskets before Howell took a feed from Wood into the center of the paint while Milton Jennings jumped to block any shot from behind. Howell collected the ball and finished the layup despite the contact from Jennings, then made the ensuing free throw for the 60-57 lead.
Clemson had a final chance to tie the game, but Hall slipped as he tried to catch an inbounds pass with 8.7 seconds left. The ball went to Lorenzo Brown, who hit a free throw with 5.5 seconds on the clock for the final margin.
Warren, a 6-foot-8 forward, helped along the way, too. He went scoreless in the Maryland loss, but finished 9-for-11 from the field with six rebounds in 25 minutes.
"Warren hurt us," Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. "He makes those mid-range shots that are hard to make. He's an opportunistic guy. They're hard to guard. They've got so many guys. They can isolate you with different guys."
Clemson had won two straight after an 0-2 ACC start, and had held both Virginia and Wake Forest to 44 points in those two wins. The Wolfpack's 10-0 game-opening burst aside, Clemson made N.C. State fight for its baskets even though the Wolfpack shot 45 percent.
The Wolfpack also made things more difficult by going just 14-for-23 from the foul line.
Booker's performance certainly frustrated the Wolfpack, who moved to a zone defense in the second half to slow down the 6-8 senior. Booker had 18 by halftime while his teammates combined to shoot 3-for-24 in the opening period, then had two straight dunks that brought Clemson within a bucket with 8:40 left.
But Booker didn't score again and didn't even attempt a shot after missing a jumper from the left corner with 6:44 left. Instead, the Tigers started taking 3s or relying on Hall's penetrating baskets to inch closer.
"It just wasn't good enough," Booker said. "I did all right, but we didn't get the win, so I can't feel too good."
Clemson shot 41 percent for the game and went 5-for-19 from 3-point range, though all five makes came after halftime to help the Tigers make their run.