By William Qualkinbush.
By William Qualkinbush
For teams with low expectations, simply winning a game is a story worth telling. Clemson entered the 2013-14 season generally expected to be an ACC bottom-dweller, so Saturday’s win over Wake Forest might originally have been nothing more than that—a conference win.
However, as Clemson piles up ACC victories in an effort to discredit those whose prognoses were bleak, there is more to the story this time.
The Tigers’ 61-53 victory over the Demon Deacons in front of 9,842 fans at Littlejohn Coliseum was their fourth in five conference games, the best start for Clemson basketball in ACC competition since the 1996-97 season.
With a stretch of five road trips in the next six games looming, the impact of this win was not lost on the team.
“It’s an honor to be there and to do that,” Clemson forward K.J. McDaniels said of the hot start. “Now we just have to keep on going.”
McDaniels led the Tigers with 15 points and 12 rebounds, giving him his fourth career double-double. Jordan Roper scored 11 points for Clemson. Coron Williams led Wake Forest with 13 points, while Tyler Cavanaugh (12) and Arnaud Adala Moto (10) also scored in double figures.
Saturday’s game was nip-and-tuck the whole way, with neither team holding more than a two-possession advantage for much of it. Wake Forest jumped out to an early lead and led 7-2 out of the gate.
But the Tigers battled back, holding a 26-25 advantage at halftime. Neither team was able to sustain long stretches offensively, which both coaches attributed to strong defensive effort put forth by both teams.
The Demon Deacons scored seven of the first 11 points of the second half to take a brief lead. But a Roper three-pointer gave the Tigers a 35-32 advantage with 16:51 remaining, and Wake Forest never led again.
Clemson held Wake to 36.2 percent shooting, blocking ten shots as a team in the process. Meanwhile, the Tigers played an efficient half on offense. They converted on 14 out of 23 shot attempts (.609) after halftime.
“It’s not like we purposely are trying to use 30 seconds every time or anything,” Brownell said. “We’re just trying to work for a good shot. Sometimes it takes us longer than others.”
McDaniels led the charge as the game wore on, scoring 11 points after halftime. He scored in a variety of ways, including a thunderous slam on a drive down the lane that put the Tigers up 55-47 with 1:56 remaining that brought the near-capacity crowd to its feet.
“We had to make plays down the stretch,” Brownell said. “K.J. struggled in the first half. He really wasn’t in a very good rhythm. He certainly played much better in the second.”
Clemson returns to action on Tuesday, January 21, when the Tigers take on Pittsburgh to open a three-game road stretch at 8 p.m.