With their 63-49 win over Wake Forest this past Saturday, Clemson's men’s basketball team took another step toward gaining a berth in the NCAA tournament.
The Tigers could not afford a loss to the lowly Demon Deacons, who had only one ACC win to their name. However, Clemson knew it would be a tough matchup, as they had won only three of the past twenty meetings with Wake Forest.
Down 9-8 early in the first half, Clemson took the lead for good on a 14-2 run. Clemson hit four straight shots and held Wake Forest to one of eleven shooting, forcing three turnovers during the run.
The Tigers then went cold for the rest of the half, shooting just one of seven from three-point range and going scoreless in the final four minutes of the half. Luckily, the Demon Deacons were cold as well, shooting just seven of 29 for 24.1 percent in the first half, allowing the Tigers to lead 33-20 heading into the break.
The Demon Deacons came out of the locker room with a sense of urgency to begin the second half, and trimmed the Tigers’ double-digit lead to just nine at 39-30 with 16 minutes remaining.
Jerai Grant answered back for Clemson with a tough put back while getting fouled, and made the free throw to extend the lead back to twelve. Two minutes later, Tanner Smith hit the first of three consecutive three-pointers from himself, Demontez Stitt and Milton Jennings. Those three baskets put Clemson up 53-38 and the Tigers were able to maintain the lead the rest of the way.
Clemson played solid defense all game long, holding Wake Forest’s leading scorer Travis McKie to just five points and twelve rebounds. “He really didn’t get anything,” Coach Brad Brownell said.
“Our guys were locked in. I thought Devin had him early, and then it was Tanner’s turn on him. We kept running fresh guys at him, and the pressure seemed to bother him a little bit.”
Stitt said that holding McKie in check was another indication that the players believe what Brownell preaches about defense.
“Coach Brownell does a great job and he preaches it every day,” Stitt said. “He doesn't like to let teams score. When you have players that buy into the system and frustrate guys trying to score, your defensive intensity and your defensive pressure goes up.”
Grant and Stitt led the Tigers with 14 points a piece, and Grant also pulled down seven rebounds. Booker played well also, registering a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Smith helped out with nine points and seven assists, and Jennings added eight points off of the bench.
“This was just a blue collar win,” Coach Brownell said after the game. “We were aggressive defensively, maybe not at the start of the game but shortly thereafter. We missed some layups there in the first half, but we really approached the game the right way and we forced Wake out of the things they like to do offensively.”
Clemson will continue their run towards the NCAA tournament this Saturday when they host Virginia Tech for Senior Day at Littlejohn Coliseum. The tip-off is set for 12 p.m. and the game will be televised on ESPN2.
Come out and support the Tigers’ senior basketball players, as they compete in the last regular season home game of their career.