Our guest in the Q&A preview for this contest, Robert Reinhard, suggested this game could turn into a 3-point shooting contest. He was spot-on. The Tigers got off to a sluggish offensive start committing 10 first half turnovers and going 1-10 from 3. Fortunately, PJ Hall kept them reasonably close. He had 10 of the Tigers 26 points in the first half.
Wake Forest started hot. They were coming off a fantastic performance in Madison, WI where they took down the Wisconsin Badgers as part of the ACC/B1G Challenge (which the ACC won) and kept their momentum going. The made 6-15 (40%) first half 3-pointers, moved the ball well, and got a balanced scoring effort that included an incredible 18 first half bench points. The Demon Deacons took a 7-point lead into halftime and were primed to get their first win in Littlejohn Coliseum since 2009.
Something clicked after halftime and Clemson looked like a completely different team. They began moving without the ball to get open and knocked down big shot after big shot. Clemson was an incredible 8-12 from 3 in the second half.
Meanwhile, Wake Forest went ice cold. They were just 2-13 from 3 in the second half. Just as important, the ACC’s leading scorer, Tyree Appleby, scored just 2 second half points and finished with just 8 in the game. It was a virtuoso defensive performance by Clemson’s guards after he torched Wisconsin for 32 points. He still had 5 assists, but couldn’t take over the game. Chase Hunter and Josh Beadle deserve major kudos for their plucky on-ball defense.
Clemson erased their 7 point halftime deficit less than 4 minutes into the second half and for the next four minutes it was a back-and-forth game. With about 12 minutes left, Clemson took over and quickly started to pull away. A PJ Hall 3-pointer at the 10 minute mark put Clemson up 7. It would never get closer than 5 points after that as Clemson continued to pull away for the remainder of the game until they led by a whopping 20 points and secured a 77-57 win.
After going 0-2 from 3-point territory in the first half, sharpshooter Alex Hemenway became a big factor in the second half. He was 4-4 on 3-pointers to finish with 12 points. PJ Hall was Clemson’s most consistent producer. After scoring 10 points in the first half, he added 11 in the second to finish with a game-high 21 points. He made 2 3-pointers and had 8 rebounds. It was the second-straight game in which he started and played heavy minutes. He also had several athletic plays including a coast-to-coast dunk that seemed to indicate he is near 100% healthy. That’s very encouraging for the Tigers.
Hunter Tyson, who may be the most underrated player in the ACC, attacked the glass and had 7 second half rebounds to finish with 10 rebounds and 15 points. Brevin Galloway contributed 10 second half points to finish with 14. Galloway looked out of control at times, but made several big momentum plays in the second half to help Clemson take over the game. Chase Hunter had another cold shooting night, but after a slow first half with just 4 points and no assists, he facilitated the offense well and got himself to the free throw line in the second half. He finished with 11 points and a team-high 4 assists.
Clemson still needs to develop more depth – only 4 of their 77 points came from the bench – or they will be very susceptible to injury. Nevertheless, they’ve played very well over their past five games and look like a quality team. KenPom has moved them up to 56th nationally
The win was Clemson’s 10th in a row at home vs. Wake Forest. They’ve now beaten the Deacons 15 of their last 17 contest overall (home and road). The Tigers are 7-2 (1-0) and will play three quality non-conference teams before diving back into ACC play. Up next is Towson who ranks 103rd in KenPom’s rankings.