What do you do when things just aren’t going your way? You fight, you claw back, time and time again just to have your goal run away from you. You fight back, you don’t give up, and victory will find you. Ladies and gentlemen, if you are looking for a metaphor for 2016 on this New Year’s Eve, Marquise Reed and the Clemson Tigers may have just provided it for you. After trailing for 38 minutes, Reed would put Clemson (11-2) (1-0) on his back and lead the Tigers to an ACC opening victory over the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (9-5) (0-2) by a score of 73-68.
After an early feeling out process between the two teams, the stars for the two teams began to take over. Both Jaron Blossomgame and John Collins would score 4 of their teams first 6 points, with the difference being that Wake Forest was making sure that Collins got a touch every possession while Clemson seemed to not be looking for Blossomgame at all.
After the first television timeout, the teams would begin to establish their offense, starting with Wake Forest. A 3-pointer from the top of the key from Konstantinos Mitoglou and a transition 3 from Keyshawn Woods would spark an 8-0 Wake Forest run to extend an early lead to 14-6. On the other side of the court, Clemson wasn’t hitting anything. The Tigers would go 3:15 with no points and was taking poor shots with no chance for offensive rebounds. Gabe DeVoe would stop the bleeding coming off the bench to hit a corner 3 to end the Wake Forest run. Jaron Blossomgame would drive the baseline for a reverse layup as Clemson would answer Wake Forest’s 8-0 run with a 5-0 run of their own to ensure that the game did not get out of reach in the first 10 minutes.
The Wake Forest Strategy was clear. They were going to feed Collins down low off of the switch from the high ball screen. Collins would roll to the basket and continuously take advantage of guard defense in the post on his way to 12 first half points. Clemson’s game plan was unclear in the first half. Guard Shelton Mitchell was forcing shots early in the shot clock, and the Tigers refused to find Blossomgame with his early success driving to the basket against the Wake Forest defense.
With 7 minutes remaining, Collins picked up a cheap second foul and had to head to the bench for the remainder of the half and Clemson took the opportunity to chip into the Demon Deacon lead. 5 turnovers in 4 minutes for Wake Forest allowed Clemson to slowly decrease the deficit and they entered the half trailing 36-31. Entering the half, Clemson was shooting only 2-of-10 from behind the arc, and was being outrebounded by 4, allowing 6 offensive rebounds for the Deacons.
As the teams stepped out of the locker rooms for the second half, one thing became clear. Clemson was not going to go away, and Wake Forest was going to throw haymakers at the Tigers whenever they got close. Clemson would get within one possession many times in the second half, and Wake Forest would turn it on and separate themselves. Avry Holmes nailed a 3-pointer to open the 2nd half scoring to get the Tigers within one score. John Collins and the Deacons would have none of it as they quickly scored 2 baskets to extend the lead back to 6, at 40-34.
At this point, Clemson got themselves in some trouble. Sidy Djitte picked up his 3rd foul and Elijah Thomas quickly picked up his 3rd and 4th, forcing the Tigers to go with a small lineup. Clemson would again get within 1 point as Gabe DeVoe stole the ball and threw a hard pass from half-court hitting Elijah Thomas in the chest and he laid it in to trim the Wake Forest lead to 42-41. But the size differential was just too much for the Tigers. Wake Forest would immediately go inside to Collins, who made easy work of Donte Grantham to extend the lead back to 6 points.
Clemson would hang around with a pair of Avry Holmes 3-pointers, but Collins was just too much for the Tigers. Collins would make an easy layup and feed Greg McClinton on the offensive glass to extend the lead to 10 as Wake Forest led 61-51.
Then it happened. Marquise Reed had had enough. DeVoe found Marquise Reed who hit a three from the elbow. Then Reed hit again off the feed from DeVoe from the same spot, while being fouled. After a Wake Forest miss, Reed found himself covered from behind the line, so he took it to the basket and was fouled and would hit both free throws. Then Reed AGAIN would make something happen, driving to the basket and finding Donte Grantham for a 3-pointer from the top of the arc, and just like that, the double-digit Wake Forest lead was down to 4 with only 3 minutes remaining.
After a Brandon Childress missed 3-pointer, who else would the Tigers go to? Reed slashed to the basket for the layup to cut the Wake Forest lead to 68-67 with 2 minutes to play. And it wasn’t just on the offensive side of the court for Reed. The next Wake Forest possession, Reed would pick off an errant pass from Austin Arians. Holmes would miss the 3-pointer, but Reed wasn’t satisfied with that, so on the ensuing possession, he picked up yet another steal. Slashing down the court, he found Donte Grantham in the lane who’s layup and the foul gave Clemson their first lead of the ballgame, 70-68 with 1:04 remaining in the game.
Wake Forest, who hadn’t scored in the last 3:45 seconds, couldn’t find the basket in the final minute as Clemson free throws iced away the game, completing an epic last minute comeback and walking out of Winston Salem with a 73-68 victory. Reed led the Tigers scoring 21 points on 6-of-11 shooting and 3-of-6 from behind the arc. Reed added 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 steals. Blossomgame and Grantham rounded out the double figure scorers for the Tigers with 14 and 11, while Grantham also pulled down 10 rebounds. Wake Forest was led by a 3-headed monster of Collins, Crawford and Woods. Collins would lead the Deacons with 20 points and 7 rebounds, Crawford would add 16 points, 8 rebound and 4 three pointers while Woods would add 16 of his own with 5 rebounds and 2 three pointers.