2019 ACC MBB: Johnson leads Wolfpack in stunner over Clemson

NC State stages second-largest halftime comeback in tournament history


Peter Koutroumpis


CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Markell Johnson did it all late in the game in 2019 ACC Tournament play at Spectrum Center on Wednesday.

Not only did he lead the eighth-seeded N.C. State Wolfpack in scoring with 23 points, but single-handedly pulled them into the lead on two different occasions late in the second half to eventually top No. 9 seed Clemson by a 59-58 margin.

Anyone who looked at the score at halftime, a 42-26 advantage in the Tigers’ favor, would likely have written the Wolfpack off.

Marcquise Reed led Clemson with 16 points and 10 rebounds, supported by Aamir Sims’ 11 points, that included two 3-pointers.

N.C. State struggled from the field after 20 minutes, shooting only 35 percent (11-31) while it seemed like Clemson couldn’t miss, dropping shots at a 52-percent (16-31) clip – including making good on eight 3-pointers.

It was gut-check time in the locker room at halftime, and when they came out for the second half, the Wolfpack earned their just rewards.


Torin Dorn was a rebounding machine, pulling in nine boards (of 12 total) while Johnson’s 13 points was supported by valuable field goals from Braxton Beverly and DJ Funderburk.

Jericole Hellems and Devon Daniels dropped shots from the perimeter that helped pull the Wolfpack back from a deficit that had ballooned to 18 points at one point.

Then Johnson started to connect.

Eventually shooting 8 of 17 from the field, back-to-back 3s (of four total), put State ahead 54-53 with 5:38 remaining.

As Reed and the Tigers fought back and forth with the Wolfpack, and led by a point, it was Johnson who eventually drew a foul with 2.6 seconds remaining to drop the two free throws needed to tie and regain the lead for the win.

N.C. State moves on to quarterfinal play on Friday, facing top-seeded Virginia at 12:30 p.m.

What they said

NC State coach Kevin Keatts

“We didn’t do a great job in the first half. I thought we played on the back of our heels, and consequently you look at it, Clemson jumped out to a 16-point lead at half, and we gave up eight three-pointers which traditionally we’re a good three-point defensive team.

“We talked about it at halftime, it wasn’t about X’s and O’s, 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, I thought he was tremendous down the stretch. He made big threes, and then obviously sealed the game by making two big free throws. But great win for us, and we survive and advance.”


  • NC State improved to 72-55 all-time in the ACC Tournament and to 5-5 as a No. 8 seed. The Wolfpack is now 3-2 in second-round games.
  • Clemson (19-13) slipped to 20-66 in ACC Tournament play and to 1-4 in second-round games.
  • NC State, which trailed 42-26, at halftime, posted the second-largest comeback from a halftime deficit to win in ACC Tournament history … No. 6 seeded Maryland’s 19-point comeback to defeat No. 2 seed NC State in the 2004 semifinals ranks first … No. 10 NC State’s 14-point comeback to defeat No. 2 seeded Virginia in the 2007 quarterfinals ranked as the second largest prior to Wednesday.

Peter Koutroumpis: 401-323-8960, @pksport