It was set up almost perfectly for Clemson (17-10) (8-7) as they traveled to Winston-Salem for their final road contest of the year to take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (15-13) (5-10). The Tigers had managed to scrap out 2 consecutive victories to put themselves squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble. They were also looking to match a program best 5 ACC road wins in 1 season.
On the other end of the court, the Demon Deacons were free-falling. Wake Forest entered the contest losers of 7 consecutive games in which they saw their respectable 14-6 start turn into a fight to find post-season basketball. It didn't seem like there was much of a chance of that happening after traveling to Chapel Hill and losing 105-72 on Saturday.
Everything changes when you are back on your home court where the Deacons have been a different team, sporting a 12-3 record this seaon. Clemson, with plenty to play for tonight, would come out with Rod Hall, Damarcus Harrison, K.J. McDaniels, Jaron Blossomgame and Landry Nnoko as there starting 5 to try and achieve it.
Clemson would look to flex their muscles on the interior early. After all, this match-up featured one of the best rebounding teams in the ACC against the team sitting in dead last. Clemson immediately went to Nnoko inside who hit a layup while being fouled. (He would miss the free throw) Hall and McDaniels would also find their way inside as Clemson jumped out to a quick 6-2 lead, but Wake Forest would answer right back. If Wake couldn't compete down low, they would screen and curl their way to the basket as Wake Forest quickly answered back with a pair of dunks by Devin Thomas and William Arnaud William Adala Moto.
With the inside presence established for both teams, after the first television timeout, the teams would look to show their range. Rod Hall and K.J. McDaniels hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give Clemson a 12-7 lead with 14:02 remaining. That lead didn't last long as Devin Thomas stole the ball and drove down the court for a fast break dunk. Wake would steal the ensuing inbounds pass and Tyler Cavanaugh would hit a 3-pointer from the corner to tie the game back at 12.
The game pace would then go back to a familiar style as the teams had trouble putting the ball in the basket for the next 5 or so minutes. Clemson was turning the ball over frequently trying to penetrate the paint (Rod Hall had 4 first half turnovers) but was managing to stay in the game thanks to transition defense and rebounding. At one point, Wake Forest had gone 8 minutes without a rebound.
With the offense struggling, Damarcus Harrison and Miles Overton would trade 3-pointers as Clemson hung on to a 21-19 lead. With Nnoko already out with foul trouble and the Tiger offense sputtering, things took a turn for the worst with 4:56 remaining in the half when K.J. McDaniels picked up his second foul of the half and would have to take a seat for the remainder of the half. It was at this point that Clemson decided that it needed to make a run.
Clemson would tear off a 9-0 run started with a Rod Hall 3-pointer and Damarcus Harrison knifing to the basket as his layup with 1:44 remaining in the half prompted a Demon Deacon Timeout. Clemson could have put the game away right here, but Wake Forest gathered themselves in the huddle, and Clemson lost their heads, and handle on the ball.
Rod Hall would turn the ball over in the paint as Codi Miller-McIntyre would sink 3-of-4 free throws to cut the lead to 30-23 entering the half. As well as Clemson was playing on the glass, and the fact that they had a 7 point lead despite the fact that Landry Nnoko had played only 7 first half minutes due to foul trouble and McDaniels contribution was minimal, this game should have been put away at this point.
Wake Forest recognized this and came out in the second half with a new strategy and one that has worked against the Tigers all year as they came out in a 2-3 zone defense. Chalk it up to perfect timing, but Clemson had shot the ball well from 3-point range in the first half and had fallen in love with the 3-ball against the zone.
Clemson's offense was once again befuddled by the zone as they scored only 2 field goals in the first 6 minutes of the 2nd half. Meanwhile, Wake Forest was doing what they did best, and that was get to the free throw line. Wake Forest had managed to chisel down the lead point by point until a Miles Overton jump shot tied the score at 39 with 12:14 remaining in the game.
Clemson received a quick spark as Landry Nnoko got back into the game and put back an offensive rebound with a dunk, and Jordan Roper hit the only shot of the night that he took as Clemson managed to regain the lead at 44-42. But McDaniels would continue to miss and Clemson would continue to be stifled by the zone. Not only was it forcing Clemson to miss jump shots, but at this point in the half, Wake Forest had out-rebounded Clemson 18-7 in the half.
Wake Forest would then go on a game deciding 15-6 run with almost all of the points coming in the paint. Clemson was getting victimized by the off ball pick with the curl to the basket as Blossomgame and Nnoko were getting victimized over the top. The Wake Forest run consisted of 4 layups and a wide open dunk. A Devin Thomas layup prompted a Brad Brownell timeout as the lead had ballooned to 46-55 with just under 4 minutes remaining.
Clemson would then switch to a zone of there own and make their own run. Landry Nnoko would make a layup before Damarcus Harrison nailed back-to-back 3 pointers to cut the lead to 56-54 in only a 1:17 of game time. After Coron Williams missed a 3-pointer, K.J. McDaniels came down with the rebound and was fouled and sent to the line for a pair of free throws to tie the game in a contest that Clemson had no business being in at this point.
In something that we have never seen from the 87% free throw shooting McDaniels, he stepped to the line, and his first free throw drew nothing but air. McDaniels had been grabbing at his arm earlier in the game, but to badly air ball a free throw short, maybe something was going on that we weren't privy too. His next free throw would find the back iron as Wake Forest would grab the rebound and Codi Miller-McIntyre would convert on a fast break layup while being fouled and nail the free throw to make the score 59-54 Wake Forest. Just thinking how many times McDaniels has picked this team up off the mat makes it difficult to say that he let this one slip away, but his missed free throws were good for a 5 point Wake Forest swing with under 2 minutes to play.
Jaron Blossomgame would convert a 3-point play of his own, but at this point it was too little, too late as Wake Forest would sink its free-throws and walk away with a 62-57 victory to snap a 7 game win streak.
A look at the statistics would tell the story for Clemson. They managed to shoot very well from the interior, making 17-of-32 (53.1%) of their 2-point shots. Unfortunately, Clemson would fall in love with the three-ball and try to shoot over the zone taking 22 3-point attempts in the game and making only 6 of them to shoot 27.3%. The ACC's leading free throw shooting team converted on only 5-13 free throws (38.5%) including missing the front end of 2 consecutive 1-and-1's to come away with empty possessions. The Tigers turned the ball over 13 times (9 in the first half) with 4 each from Rod Hall and K.J. McDaniels.
On the other end, Wake Forest shot the ball brilliantly against the stingy Clemson defense. They finished the game 55% from the field, including 18-of-27 of their 2 point field goal attempts (66.7%). They only shot 3-of-11 from 3-point range, but made up for it by getting to the free throw line 25 times and hitting 17 of them. The worst rebounding team in the ACC managed to keep the battle on the boards close as Clemson held the rebounding edge 27-25, but Wake Forest dominated the boards from the zone-defense.
K.J. McDaniels just didn't bring his offense to Winston-Salem, scoring only 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting (including 7 three point attempts). He posted the 2nd lowest ORtg for Clemson with a 69 in front of only Sidy Djitte. Damarcus Harrison was the star offensively for the Tigers tonight, scoring 15 on 6-of-12 shooting with three 3-pointers, good for an ORtg of 128. Rod Hall would round out the double figure scorers with 10 (all of which came in the first half) on 4-of-11 shooting, but managed only a 82 ORtg.
Wake Forest managed a very balanced attack as they finished with 4 players in double figures. Devin Thomas and Tyler Cavanaugh both finished with 12, and Arnaud William Adala Moto added 11 and Codi Miller-McIntyre rounded out the double figure scorers with 10.
Clemson will have the rest of the week to recover and learn from this loss before returning to action on Sunday afternoon as they take on the Maryland Terrapins at 1:00pm at Littlejohn Coliseum. Stay tuned to Shakin the Southland for more Clemson Basketball coverage. And make sure to check out our Clemson Baseball coverage as the 11th Ranked Tigers are winners of 6-straight.