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No. 11 Clemson seeking better effort

No. 11 Clemson seeking better effort

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) No matter how often Clemson's Dabo Swinney replays last season's game against North Carolina State in his mind he can't figure out what went wrong.

One moment, the top-10 Tigers were locked in a tight game, up 3-0 on the Wolfpack early in the second quarter. The next, Clemson trailed 27-3 at the half and on the way to their second loss in three games.

``It was like, bam!'' Swinney remembered this week.

The 11th-ranked Tigers (9-1, 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) finish league play against North Carolina State (6-4, 3-3) on Saturday and will try to rebound from the 37-13 loss that was part of a late swoon.

Clemson was one of college football's biggest surprises in 2011 after starting 8-0. But the Tigers dropped three of their final four regular-season games, including the stunning loss at Carter-Finley Stadium. It was a defeat that hasn't set well with the team in the time since.

``As an offense, we were pretty much embarrassed,'' Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd. ``It should be a fun game.''

Unless Clemson's high-speed attack stalls out against the Wolfpack as it did a year ago. Boyd threw two interceptions and the Tigers fumbled twice, one each by Boyd and ex-Clemson tailback Mike Bellamy. The result was a 27-point second quarter for North Carolina State, the team's best output in six years.

Wolfpack coach Tom O'Brien knows what his team accomplished last season doesn't matter much, especially with the Tigers offense out-performing their record-setting showing from a year ago.

``They've got playmakers at every spot on offense, a really tough challenge for the defense to defend,'' O'Brien said.

Boyd leads the ACC in passing yards and total offense. Clemson receiver DeAndre Hopkins is second in the country with 14 touchdown catches. Tailback Andre Ellington is third in league rushing. And last year's freshman star Sammy Watkins is finally getting untracked after a slow first half of the season.

``It's definitely a huge game,'' North Carolina State cornerback Dontae Johnson said. ``We're just ready for the challenge.''

The Wolfpack could also be finding their stride. They became bowl eligible last week with a 37-6 victory over Wake Forest. Earlier this year, North Carolina State knocked No. 10 Florida State from the national championship chase with a 17-16 victory. That win was the latest in amazing stretch where the team has won seven of its last 11 games against opponents.

Toppling Clemson would be the Wolfpack's second win over a top-15 team, something they'd only pulled off in a season twice before. The setting, though, could have plenty to do with the outcome.

The Tigers set a school record last week in a 45-10 victory over Maryland with their 12th straight victory at Death Valley. The Wolfpack have had their struggles at Memorial Stadium, losing seven of the past eight played there.

Clemson's players have a chance at a share of their third ACC Atlantic Division title in four seasons. The Tigers are tied for the division lead with Florida State and would need an unlikely Seminoles' loss at Maryland on Saturday - coupled with beating North Carolina State - to claim the Atlantic's spot in the league title game next month.

Defeating the Wolfpack would also mean Clemson's first 10-win regular season since 1981 when it won the national championship at 12-0.

``To be able to be a division champion three out of four years is a big step,'' Swinney said. ``To be able to have back-to-back 10-win seasons in another big step. That's something we have talked a lot about.''

The Wolfpack, as they have the past two years, will rely on the arm of quarterback Mike Glennon. The senior threw for 253 yards and three touchdowns in the upset of Clemson and is just a three yards behind Boyd for the ACC lead in passing yards.

The Tigers defense has picked things up the past month. Clemson's defenders were giving up 27 points a game the first six weeks and just 15 a game the last four. Glennon, though, could be the most talented and capable quarterback the Tigers have faced all season, Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said.

``They've definitely earned our respect,'' Venables said. ``And we're going to have to play better than we have all year.''

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Wizards' assistant Sidney Lowe leaves to join Dwane Casey's staff with Detroit Pistons

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Associated Press

Wizards' assistant Sidney Lowe leaves to join Dwane Casey's staff with Detroit Pistons

The Washington Wizards have an opening on their coaching staff, as assistant Sidney Lowe has left the team to join the Detroit Pistons.

Lowe, according to ESPN, will be the top assistant on new Pistons coach Dwane Casey's staff. 

Lowe spent two seasons under head coach Scott Brooks in Washington. A D.C. native, Lowe starred at DeMatha High School before playing at NC State and then in the NBA.

Lowe was the head coach at his alma mater for five years from 2006 through 2011, but has otherwise been an NBA lifer. He served as head coach of the Timberwolves in 1993-94 and head coach of the Grizzlies from 2000 to 2002.

The Wizards have several coaching hires to make now. They have a new G-League team set to take the court in the fall and will need to hire a staff sometime this summer. 

With Lowe gone, they could choose to promote from within or go outside the organization.

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Nationals look to halt red hot Tampa Bay Rays in 2-game series at Tropicana Field

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USA TODAY Sports

Nationals look to halt red hot Tampa Bay Rays in 2-game series at Tropicana Field

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays, routinely using relievers as starters to deal with a rash of injuries, are pitching their way to victories.

The Rays (37-40) go into a two-game interleague series against the Washington Nationals with the momentum of a three-game sweep of the American League East-leading Yankees. New York hadn't lost three games in a row at any point all season, but the Rays pulled it off, capped with a 7-6 win in 12 innings on Sunday at Tropicana Field.

"That's the best team in the league right now, them and the Astros ... I think coming home from that we had confidence and it all carried over into that series," said Rays rookie first baseman Jake Bauers, who won the game in the 12th inning.

Since beginning their experimental use of relievers as "openers" to start games, the Rays have a 3.07 ERA, and entering Sunday's game, that edged the Yankees for the best ERA in baseball since May 19. They've won five of seven games to again challenge .500, and Sunday's walkoff home run by Bauers was their second this season, after totaling one in three seasons from 2015 to 2017.

The Nationals (41-35) had gone 3-9 in their last 12 games before Sunday night's rain-delayed game against the Phillies, dropping into third place in the National League East. They'll send out Gio Gonzalez (6-4, 3.08 ERA), who has no wins in his last four starts and his ERA has risen from a sterling 2.10 to 3.08.

Gonzalez lasted only four innings in his last outing, giving up five hits and two runs against the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday. For his career against the Rays, he's 2-2 with a 5.54 ERA, though he's only faced Tampa Bay once since 2012. That was a rough 2015 start at Tropicana Field, lasting 3 1/3 innings and giving up five earned runs on eight hits, walking more batters than he struck out. For his career at Tropicana, he has an 11.25 ERA.

The Rays will have an actual starter on the mound in Blake Snell (9-4, 2.48), who is in line for an All-Star appearance after the first three months of his season. He has just one loss in his last seven starts, and while he has never faced the Nationals, he has generally fared well in interleague play, going 3-2 with a 2.33 ERA in eight career starts.

Tampa Bay, hoping to build on its current momentum, has a tough week ahead, with two games against Washington, then another four against Houston to close out the homestand.

Washington goes from St. Petersburg to a weekend four-game series at the Philadelphia Phillies before returning home for a week.

The Rays got a head start with a Sunday afternoon game and the Nationals saw their prime-time game delayed by rain, keeping them on the field beyond midnight and still needing to fly to Florida for the two-game stopover.

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