On Saturday, Clemson headed up to Winston-Salem for their only matchup with Wake Forest of the season. The Tigers entered on a two game winning streak (@GT, UNC) and held a four game winning streak over the Demon Deacons. The Deacs were coming off a big home win over Florida State, but sat at just a 9-13 overall.
The game went back and forth early, characterized by a bevy of lead changes and a lot of whistles from the referees. The knicky knack fouls would play a major role in the game later.
With three minutes to go in the first half, the Tigers began a 12-2 run. The run was punctuated by two big plays from Gabe DeVoe: a three-pointer in the closing seconds of the first half and three free throws after DeVoe was knocked to the ground while shooting a three. The run put Clemson up 38-30 a couple seconds into the second half.
Similar to the Tigers’ game at Georgia Tech, DeVoe carried Clemson early. His hot shooting continued as he hit five three-pointers and led all players in scoring with 24 on 8-11 shooting. He is playing the best basketball of his career and is one of the best player development stories of the Brownell era.
The Demon Deacons wouldn’t go away though. Trailing by 8, they countered with a 14-3 run of their own to grab a three-point led of their own. It wouldn’t last long though. Reed would hit a three to tie the game and back and forth they went.
Unfortuantely for the Tigers, Reed would pick up two quick fouls just as he was heating up and went to the bench. After just two minutes of stagnant offense, Coach Brownell made the coaching decision that would be the difference in the game. Trailing 56-59, he called a timeout, and sent Marcquise Reed and Eli Thomas onto the court - each with three fouls.
They switched to a 2-3 zone to help them avoid fouling out. Reed would pick up his fourth foul in short order anyway, but Brownell continued the strategy. It paid off in spades.
The Wake Forest offense couldn’t adjust to the zone. They scored just eight points from that point (8:46) on - two of which came in the closing seconds just after Clemson had switched back to man-to-man defense.
DeVoe tied the game with a three-pointer off an Eli Thomas offensive rebound. Then Reed scored eight of the Tigers’ final 12 points to close out the gritty road win. Marcquise Reed scored 18 of his 22 points in the second.
Clemson made the critical defensive stops that were non-existant just a season ago and Mitchell chipped in two free throws in the closing seconds to push the lead to eight and extinuish any final Demon Deacon hope.
The pain of losing so many close games like this one last year makes wins like this all the sweeter. Now, the Tigers are squarely positioned for a top four seed in the ACC tournament and a 3-5 seed in the NCAA tournment. Let’s take a look at the ACC Standings:
- Virginia 10-0
- Clemson 8-3
- Duke 7-3
- Louisville 6-3
- Miami 6-4
- NC State 6-4
- Florida State 5-5
- Virginia Tech 5-5
- North Carolina 5-5
- Syracuse 4-5
- Georgia Tech 4-5
- Boston College 3-6
- Notre Dame 3-7
- Wake Forest 2-9
- Pittsburgh 0-10
The Tigers sit alone in second place, and have an easier path than either Duke or Louisville. While the Tigers still must play Duke and travel to Florida State, the Blue Devils have two games against UNC and one against Louisville remaining. Meanwhile Louisville has that game against Duke, one more against Virginia, and a battle with UNC remaining. The Tigers also hold tie-breakers over Lousiville and Miami. A top four seed with double-bye in the ACC tournament is probable.
Clemson has only made the NCAA tournament 11 times in school history. In those appearances they were seeded: #6 (1980), #4 (1987), #9 (1989), #5 (1990), #9 (1996), #4 (1997), #6 (1998), #5 (2008), #7 (2009), #7 (2010), #12 (2011). A win next week against Pittsburgh will likely clinch a 12th NCAA tournament berth. With a few more wins to follow, they have a chance at a #3 seed, which would be their best ever (bracketology).
The Tigers are back in action on Thursday as they host 0-10 Pittsburgh. Return to Shakin the Southland for more Clemson basketball analysis.