CLEMSON - One win down in ACC play, building momentum for the long road ahead is on the mind of the Tigers.
Clemson (9-6, 1-2 ACC) hosts Wake Forest (9-6, 2-1) for a 7 p.m. tipoff at Littlejohn Coliseum Tuesday, coming off a dominating defensive effort against Virginia on Saturday to grab their first conference victory, 59-44.
Keeping to the same formula from the win is what senior Tigers forward Milton Jennings says is crucial going forward.
“We know what we did to win that game,” Jennings said. “We were very sound on defense and the ball went through me and (Devin) Booker’s hands and it translated to easy shots for everybody else.
“We just have to come out and know that we can play the same way…You have a young team – we needed that win to get going and momentum is very powerful in basketball.”
Wake Forest is at its deepest into the conference season above .500 yet under third-year coach Jeff Bzdelik, finishing 8-24 (1-15) in his first season and improving to 13-18 (4-12) last year.
To get there, senior Deacs guard C.J. Harris sunk a pair of late free throws for a career-high 29 points, and defended a Boston College 3-point attempt at the buzzer for their second ACC win in a row, 75-72, at Lawrence Joel Coliseum in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Wake Forest is similar to Clemson in roster make-up, as Harris is joined by junior forward Travis McKie as the only other scholarship upperclassmen on the squad.
Harris leads Wake Forest in scoring, with 15.7 points per game and ranks fourth in the conference in free throw shooting percentage (82.3). He also hits 3-pointers at a 44.8 percent clip.
McKie is right there in scoring (15.2 ppg), averaging a team-high 7.5 rebounds per and fifth in the ACC in steals per game (1.7).
“They’ve got two guys that have been in a league a good while,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “(They) play with a lot of confidence and score in a variety of ways.”
Clemson’s senior frontcourt duo is coming in playing well as they have all season.
Jennings scored a career-high in ACC play of 21 points with 11 rebounds and hit 5-of-8 from the perimeter against Virginia. Booker leads the Tigers in points (12.1 ppg) and rebounds (8.1), and has turned it up in conference games, with 15.3 points and 11.7 rebounds per in the last three.
“When they play at a high level like that, it takes pressure off the other guys,” Brownell said. “It allows them to get easier shots and certainly makes our offense better.”
At guard, sophomore Rod Hall is making an impact more behind-the-scenes, at fifth in the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.5). He committed no turnovers in a team-high 36 minutes last time out against the Cavaliers. As a team, Clemson is second in the conference in turnover margin (2.87).
Freshman guard Jordan Roper is “day-to-day” according to Brownell, after missing Saturday’s game with a sprained ankle. Roper has been the Tigers’ sixth-man in terms of minutes (20.1), averaging 6.8 points per.
The 44 points allowed versus Virginia vaulted Clemson into the top-15 nationally in the category (56.2 PPG) and also in the top-15 in possessions allowed (62.1). Conversely, the Deacs are last in the ACC in scoring margin (0.7 PPG).
Bzdelik recognizes the challenge ahead.
“They’re a tough defensive-minded team that has a couple veteran players with size” Bzdelik said. “…They’re very athletic – very quick, but hey, we got to go in there and play with some mettle and play hard and play well.”
Last time the two met, Clemson rode some hot shooting from now-departed guard Tanner Smith (8-of-9 on field goals for 20 points) in a 20-point triumph (78-58) at Wake Forest. Milton Jennings added 15 points, making 6-of-11 from the field.
Bzdelik’s Deacs haven’t come within single-digits in a final yet against the Tigers, losing 63-49 two years ago and 71-60 last season also, both at Littlejohn. Extending the winning streak to four games over Wake Forest would be the longest in the series since 1988-90.
The game between the Demon Deacons and Tigers will be televised on ESPNU.
2013 Clemson basketball ACC home/road splits (2/4)
|FT% (Att. per game)||67.9 (22.4)||72.4 (14.5)|