Wake Forest vs Clemson Preview

by - Correspondent -
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CLEMSON - Talk about your indoctrinations.

When Clemson takes the floor against Wake Forest Saturday (4 p.m.) at Littlejohn Coliseum, they'll be facing the No. 4 team in the country. This, of course, after last Sunday's ACC opener vs. No. 6 Duke.

Sure, they had heard about how brutal the ACC can be. But head coach Oliver Purnell's four freshmen are finding out now, up close and personal. There are few nights off in this league, and Purnell is interested to see how his team holds up under such constant scrutiny.

"They handled themselves at Duke like I hoped they would," Purnell said Friday. "They were aggressive and held their composure, and had us in a good position with about seven minutes gone in the second half. We just had one little span there where Duke went from down six to up three in about a minute. Other than that, I was pleased.

"But it doesn't get any easier. That's for sure."

The Demon Deacons (12-1, 1-0 ACC) are considered a possible national title contender.

Already this year they've attained the first No. 1 ranking in school history. In Chris Paul (14.3 points per game) and Justin Gray (16.2), Wake Forest has one of the most dynamic guard duos in the country.

The Deacs love to play up-tempo, which suits the style of athletic center Eric Williams (6-foot-9, 14.9) and makes him a threat on both ends of the floor.

But it's a style of play which won't catch Clemson by surprise. Purnell and Wake Forest head coach Skip Prosser met 13 times in the Atlantic 10 when Purnell was at Dayton and Prosser at Xavier. Prosser got the better of Purnell in that matchup, 7-6, and of course won the two meetings between Wake Forest and Clemson a year ago.

However, Purnell said such a familiarity gives both head coaches certain advantages.

Ultimately, then, it comes down to which players make plays.

"We were comfortable with the tempo of the Duke game because Duke wanted to play at about the same speed," said Purnell. "Wake Forest likes to get it out and run, and this will be a good challenge for us. We've got to keep them from getting the easy baskets in transition."

The Tigers also need to find consistent scoring punch from someone other than senior center Sharrod Ford.

Ford is averaging 15.1 points and 7.8 rebounds per game for the Tigers, and has been easily Clemson's most consistent player. Junior guard Shawan Robinson is averaging almost 12 points a game, but defenses are beginning to concentrate on limiting his effectiveness from the perimeter.

And until someone else picks up the slack - freshmen Cliff Hammonds and Cheyenne Moore, specifically - Purnell said the onus is on Robinson.

"He's got to find a way to get open," Purnell said. "He's got to understand teams are going to try and take him away. He still has to shoot for us and be a threat from the 3-point line."

Other Notes:

- Clemson has lost five of six to Wake Forest since Skip Prosser became the head coach of the Deacs. The only win was a thriller, a 118-115 double overtime triumph in Littlejohn Coliseum on Feb. 13, 2002;

- Ford will play in his 100th career game at Clemson when the Tigers face Wake Forest on Saturday. He has started 68 of his first 99 and has 873 poins and 603 rebounds He has made 54 of his last 91 shots from the field (.591) and averaged 16.8 points per game over his last eight games. Ford is coming off a 20- point performance at Duke. Ford has 15 career double-doubles, third among active ACC players Shelden Williams (24) and Sean May (19);

- Robinson has 99 three-point goals and obviously needs just one to become the 11th player in Clemson history to score 100 three-point goals in a career.

- Clemson ranks fifth in the nation in steals and 24th in blocked shots this week. Clemson is one of just six schools nationally to rank in the top 25 in both categories.

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