Tigers fall to Deacons, slip to the sixth seed in ACC Tournamnent

by - Senior Writer -

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. –The Clemson Tigers needed a big win on the road Sunday night to ensure a Thursday bye when the ACC Tournament starts this week, but Demon Deacon senior Ishmael Smith scored 17 points and dished out seven assists to lead Wake Forest to a 70-65 win over the Tigers during Senior Night in Joel Coliseum - the Deacons' 18th consecutive home win over the Tigers.

A Clemson win would have given the Tigers (21-9 overall, 9-7 ACC) the No. 3 seed in the tournament, and they would have not play until 9 p.m. on Friday night. The loss, however, drops them to the No. 6 seed, and they will play N.C. State, the No. 11 seed, on Thursday night at the Greensboro Coliseum. A Tiger win on Thursday would push them into that Friday night game, anyway, against Florida St., the No. 3 seed.

The Deacons finish the regular season at 21-9, and their 9-7 final record in the ACC is good for a tie for fifth-place with Clemson. By virtue of the head-to-head win over Clemson, Wake Forest will be the No. 5 seed in the tournament held at the Greensboro Coliseum.

Clemson led by as many as seven points early in the game, but Wake came back and took the lead with 12 ½ minutes remaining in the first half. Although the Tigers got as close as two points in the second half, the Deacons would never relinquish the lead.

“We gave up too much on the offensive glass and we didn't shoot the ball well enough from the outside to get a little more offense,” Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell said. “They packed the inside against [Trevor] Booker and I thought we got good looks. I'm very interested to see the tape. We took 25 3-pointers, and I think there were only one or two that weren't good looks, but we couldn't knock them down tonight.

“When you couple that with the fact that we weren't great from the free throw line and you're in a close ball game on the road on Senior Night - and Aminu was a handful, he played like the player he is tonight - that makes it difficult. Our scouting emphasis was on keeping them off the offensive glass and we just didn't do well enough. I'm disappointed that we didn't get it because we wanted to get that bye (in the ACC Tournament), but Wake's a good team and they took care of business on their home court on Senior Night."

Sophomore Al-Farouq Aminu led the Wake scorers with 18 points and also grabbed 12 rebounds for his 18th double-double of the season and 27th of his career. Demontez Stitt led Clemson with 18 points to go with four rebounds. Tanner Smith scored 13 points and David Potter had 11 points. Booker was held to just six points.

The Deacons held Clemson to only 39 percent shooting while shooting 42 percent themselves. Wake Forest shot 81.8 percent (18-of-22) from the free throw line, its best mark of the ACC season, while the Tigers made went only 63.2 percent (12-of-19) from the charity stripe.

Wake Forest dominated the boards, outrebounding Clemson 44-33 and scoring 19 second-chance points compared to 12 for the Tigers.

Clemson had the better of the early play, taking an early 7-2 lead, but Wake roared back to take a 23-16 lead with 6:50 remaining in the first half. The lead was set up after Potter was called for an intentional foul when he grabbed Aminu from behind as he was going up for a breakaway dunk. Aminu made both free throws, and then tipped in a put back to give the Demon Deacons the 23-16 advantage.

The Tigers finished the half on an 8-2 run to cut the Wake Forest lead to 31-29 heading into the break.

The Deacons came out of the locker room on a roll, starting the second half on a 14-4 run to extend their advantage to 45-33 with 15:59 remaining. The Tigers scored the next seven points to draw within five at 45-40.

The teams went back and forth over the next nine minutes. Clemson would get as close as 51-47 on a 3-pointer by Potter, but Williams made a layup and Harris sunk an off-balance 3-pointer as the shot clock expired to put the Deacons ahead by nine.

The Tigers roared back with a 9-2 run to draw within two at 58-56 with 4:46 left in the game, but Smith immediately answered with a spin move in the lane to make the lead four once again. The teams traded baskets and Clemson would twice more cut the lead to two, but they would get no closer. Wake Forest made 6-of-8 free throws in the last 2:11 to seal the win.

Purnell said the 25 3-point attempts were a by-product of the Deacons putting the defensive clamps on Booker and daring other Tigers to beat them.

"I thought we got it inside a few times and he threw it right back out. He's going to throw that, that's why you have 25 [3-point attempts] because [Booker] is going to hit the open guy. If they were as good of looks as I think they were then you have to knock some of those down. We've done that before, Booker's had seven, eight or nine assists in a game, but you don't get an assist if you don't make those. Our inside-out offense is predicated on the team shooting with poise, and we're Division I basketball players so we ought to make a high percentage of those."

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