When the final bell rang on Saturday afternoon, it was the Clemson Tigers who stood victorious after an ugly, brutal battle with the Wake Forest Demon Deacons after a Josh Smith tip in with 0.5 seconds remaining gave the victory to the Tigers.
The Tigers were looking to rebound after an embarrassing home loss to the Florida State Seminoles after shooting only 34% on the evening. Historically, the Brad Brownell led Tigers had the right team coming into town when looking for redemption. Under Brownell, the Tigers are 5-1 against the Demon Deacons, including 4-0 at Littlejohn Coliseum.
Clemson's starting lineup came in with a different look. Sophomore Sidy Djitte received the start over Landry Nnoko while Jordan Roper received the start over Damarcus Harrison. The announcers seemed to suggest that the shake up in the starting line up was a punishment over the poor performance against the Seminoles, and while seeming like a legitimate explanation, this is pure speculation and will have to be something answers by coach Brownell himself.
Clemson tried to establish Djitte immediately going to him on the first possession, however, Djitte would air ball a hook shot and be removed less than 3 minutes into the game for Nnoko. Wake Forest would start the game on a hot streak with two three-pointers and a three point play to take an early 11-2 lead.
I won't sugar coat the first 10 minutes of basketball, Clemson fans. After reviewing basketball games for the past three or four years, the first 10 minutes was some of the worst that I have ever seen. Clemson started the game 1-for-9 from the field with 0 offensive rebounds and 3 turnovers. Other than a Jaron Blossomgame lay in 8 minutes into the game, Clemson had only 2 points.
The only thing that kept Clemson in the contest during the first quarter of the game was the eventual cold drought that the Demon Deacons would go on themselves. With the opportunity to put Clemson away, Wake Forest would miss 9 shots in a row before Clemson would break their scoring drought with a Jordan Roper jumper.
After the second television timeout, Clemson's offense would finally get into gear thanks to Donte Grantham who spurred a Clemson 7-0 run with a lane penetration and a monster dunk. A pair of Clemson runs would allow the Tigers to remain within striking distance at the half.
Clemson's first half clearly did not go according to plan. After giving up 50 points in the paint to North Carolina in the Deacons last ACC contest, the Tigers appeared to have no interest in attacking the paint as they settled for long jump shot after long jump shot. Foul trouble would plague the Tigers as well. Leading scorer Jaron Blossomgame played only 5 minutes in the first half after picking up 2 quick fouls. Landry Nnoko and Djitte would both pick up fouls forcing Josh Smith to play serious minutes.
Smith grabbed 8 rebounds, but on the defensive end was victimized by Devin Thomas all day and was frequently late on rotations and confused over the pick and roll defense as Coach Brad Brownell was heard screaming "Josh! What are you doing Josh?!?" more than once in the game.
The second half would begin eerily similar to the first half as Wake Forest would jump back to a 10 point lead forcing Clemson to call a timeout with 17:36 remaining in the game. Just like the first half, Grantham would ignite the charge again with another explosive drive into the lane and a thunderous dunk.
After an additional dunk by Jordan Roper on the fast break, Clemson would, again, refuse to sent the ball into the paint settling for missed three-pointers as Wake Forest would stretch the lead back to 8 with 12 minutes remaining.
Landry Nnoko would enter the game with 3 fouls and begin to take over in the paint. While the Tigers continued to deny him the ball by refusing to pass into the paint, Nnoko would hit the offensive glass and provided 4 quick points to cut the lead to 4. The next time down the court, Austin Ajukwa would take a feed off a screen from Rod Hall and hit a deep three pointer to cut the lead to 1 point. It was Ajukwa's first points in 5 games and only his second field goal in ACC play this season, and boy was it a big one.
Wake Forest would answer the Clemson run again with 4 points in a row before Jaron Blossomgame began to heat up. Blossomgame would continue to show his aggression in the paint by throwing down a massive slam dunk and evening the score at 49-49 for the first time since the opening tip off. Unfortunately, Landry Nnoko would pick up his fourth foul and Josh Smith would have to re-enter and Wake Forest immediately went back to Devin Thomas to retake the lead.
After a horrendous day at the free throw line, shooting only 15-of-27, Clemson would take their first lead of the game from the free throw line when Donte Grantham pulled Clemson ahead by 1 with 58.6 seconds remaining. Landry Nnoko would pick up his 5th foul and send Devin Thomas to the free throw line with a chance to tie and take the lead. Thomas would make the first to once again tie the game, but the second free throw would go off the back rim and Wake Forest would gather the rebound.
Rod Hall would make the biggest play of the game and poke the ball away from the Wake Forest point guard. Clemson would recover the lose ball and rush down the court before Coach Brownell called a timeout to hold for the last shot. Rod Hall drove down the court and penetrate and throw up a layup that would bounce off the back iron. Josh Smith would become the hero fighting through two Wake Forest defenders to perfectly throw up the put back to give Clemson the lead for good 59-57 with 0.5 seconds remaining. Wake's three-quarter court shot fell long and Clemson escaped on its home court with a 2 point victory.
Donte Grantham was the leading scorer for the Tigers scoring 13 points on 4-of-10 shooting and sparked both of Clemson's game changing rally's with explosive drives. Grantham is still known to be quick with the trigger, but you can see him developing before your eyes. Since the second half of the FSU game, he's done a better job of attacking the basket and not settling. Jordan Roper was the only other Tiger in double figures with 12 points.
Don't let the final score fool you, Clemson was handed this game by the Demon Deacons and tried very hard to hand it back. After refusing to go into the paint against a team that recently had 50 points in the paint scored against them, the Tigers shot only 35.1% for the game, 22.2% from three point range and a shockingly bad 15-27 from the free throw line. A win may be a win, but the Tigers have a lot of work to do and improve on a game such as this if they wish to remain competitive. For now we'll take it as the Tigers improve to 11-8 (3-4) before a challenging road to play NC State on Wednesday.