Date: Saturday, 2/1
Time: 8 p.m.
Location: Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Winston-Salem, N.C.
For all of the frustrating lows of Clemson’s basketball season, the Tigers have at least made sure to compensate with some of the highest highs in recent memory.
In addition to breaking the Chapel Hill streak and upsetting a top-3 Duke team, they have now tacked on a thrilling last-second win over Syracuse to even their ACC record at 5-5 halfway through the conference slate. At 11-9 overall, Clemson still has a long way to go regarding postseason aspirations, but you have to start somewhere.
The Tigers look to continue their momentum as they head into a Saturday night matchup with Wake Forest in Winston-Salem. The game will take place just 11 days after the two teams faced off in Littlejohn Coliseum - a 74-71 Clemson victory. Clemson has won seven straight games against the Demon Deacons, but the most recent triumph was anything but easy.
The Tigers trailed by six at the half and weren’t able to regain the lead until the final six minutes of the game. Even then, a bevy of missed free throws and turnovers down the stretch allowed Wake to hang around until the end, where Clemson was able to finally hold them off for the three-point win. The highlight of the game was a career-high 21 points from Hunter Tyson, as no other Clemson player reached double figures.
The Demon Deacons have lost 6 of their last 7 seven games and sit in last place in the ACC at 2-8, but they have been competitive on numerous occasions and are not lacking in talent.
Point guard Brandon Childress is the veteran leader for Wake Forest and the team’s leading scorer at better than 15 points per game. The Tigers kept him relatively in check in the first meeting, as the crafty guard managed 14 points on 4-of-11 shooting including 2 of 7 from 3-point range.
The perimeter player who caused Clemson more trouble was Charlotte transfer Andrien White, who posted a career-high 22 points and helped catapult Wake to their halftime lead with his ability to knock down shots. White along with the rest of the Deacs cooled off in the second half, however, as Clemson ratcheted up on defense and turned the game back in its favor.
Wake Forest has been without second leading scorer Chaundee Brown for nearly a month with a leg injury and has had to use an array of role players to try to make up for his absence. It seems they haven’t been able to compensate fully — Wake’s current slide coincides exactly with the time he has been out of the lineup. While Brown’s return is reportedly imminent, it’s unclear whether he will be available Saturday.
One other very important player to watch for the Deacs is center Olivier Sarr. The seven-footer from France is one of the ACC’s most skilled big men, and he presents a serious matchup problem on the offensive end. Clemson’s usual “center,” Aamir Simms, gives up four inches in height to Sarr and is susceptible to being scored on down low or shot over on the perimeter because of this disparity. He was Wake’s most effective weapon in the teams’ first matchup in posting a very efficient 16 points and 12 rebounds, and foul trouble may have been the only reason he didn’t do more damage.
Simms will almost certainly be looking to get off the schneid in this game as he has scored just 13 total points in the last three games following a five-game tear that saw him average 20 points per game. To his credit, he has still played well enough in other aspects of the game (if we forgive the five turnovers against Syracuse) and can be an integral player for Clemson even when not scoring at a high clip. That said, the Tigers need more production from their leading scorer — even when dueling with a tough matchup like Sarr.
It’s no coincidence that Clemson’s improving play has correlated with Clyde Trapp gradually rounding back into form after returning from an ACL tear. The junior guard had a veritable coming-out party against the Orange on Tuesday night, posting career highs in points (17), rebounds (9), and assists (6) and sealing the win with a tough game-winning layup in the final seconds. His resurgence — and to what degree he is able to maintain it — will be a huge X-factor in the final third of the Tigers’ season.
Wake played a healthy mix of man-to-man and zone against the Clemson last time in a game that turned into kind of a slog offensively for the Tigers. They shot 50% from the field, but it seemed like that was mostly due to Tyson’s ability to carve out space for layups and put-backs. Clemson will need a more well-rounded effort on the road and has to attack any zone the Deacs play the same way it did in the win over Syracuse. The staff can’t expect Tevin Mack to go for 32 points again, but his effectiveness in the high post must be utilized.
The Tigers, normally stingy defensively, allowed Wake to get quite comfortable on offense in the second half of the first meeting and had play catch-up most of the night as a result. They will need to come out with better energy and commitment on that end of the court if they are going to complete the season sweep of the Deacs.
We would expect another close battle in Winston-Salem. Kenpom predicts a 70-69 Wake Forest win. We’ll see if the Tigers can snag their second road win of the season and continue building momentum for the home stretch.