CLEMSON – A 59-44 win over Virginia on Saturday allowed Clemson to take a step forward in Atlantic Coast Conference play after losing its first two league games.
Tuesday against Wake Forest, Brad Brownell’s Tigers built on that victory by putting their best foot forward again.
Playing outstanding defense while taking – and making – high percentage shots for the second game in a row, Clemson (10-6, 2-2 ACC) overwhelmed Wake Forest (9-7, 2-2) 60-44 before a lively crowd at Littlejohn Coliseum.
While the Tigers made life difficult for the Demon Deacons the visitors from Winston-Salem made it pretty hard on themselves, turning in a horrid shooting performance – the fourth worst in school history. Even uncontested shots wouldn’t fall, and at the end of the night Jeff Bzdelik’s bunch was 15 of 61 from the field and 2 of 10 from 3-point range.
“I think our pressure really gave us the game,” said forward K.J. McDaniels, who led Clemson with 14 points, nine rebounds and seven blocked shots. “Once I got a few blocks I wanted more. My last game I had some tension headaches and that affected my play, and tonight I felt good.”
He certainly played like he did, and with Adonis Filer getting 13 points and Devin Booker adding 12, he had plenty of help in putting down the Deacs.
“There were more transition opportunities and when the game’s in transition, K.J.’s a better player,” Brownell said. "That’s where he’s at his best. And the defensive intensity was really good. I thought we had a good game plan coming into the game.
“When you do a good job on C.J. Harris, it makes a big difference.”
Harris, a sharp-shooting guard, was limited to 8 points on the night.
“The score was 11-9 and (forward Travis McKie) and (forward Arnaud Adala Moto) got two quick fouls then Clemson went on a 15-2 run,” Bzdelik said. “Give Clemson credit. They owned the rim. They blocked shots and that shook our players and we missed some good looks.
“We were constantly on our heels.”
McKie had 12 points for the Deacs and Devin Thomas added 11 in a losing effort.
Leading by 10 to start the second half, Clemson didn’t allow Wake to cut the deficit to single digits the rest of the way.
McDaniels made it 33-21 with a jumper to open the stanza and followed with a rainbow from beyond the arc to put the Tigers well in front and well in control at 36-21.
Clemson was content to take its time and hold for a good shot while Wake’s shots continued to either miss the mark or wind up in the stands after being swatted away.
The Tigers finished with 11 blocks.
“We got them forcing bad shots,” Booker said. “And we were really going after them.”
There wasn’t much between the teams in the early going, with Wake Forest holding a lead but Clemson staying close.
The Tigers gained their first advantage of the night at 13:50 of the first when a Milton Jennings jumper gave the hosts a 9-8 edge.
But in the final seven minutes of the opening period, Clemson began to assert itself.
Back-to-back buckets by Filer and Booker increased the Tiger advantage to 19-13 with 6:26 showing on the clock, and those two scores helped initiate a surge.
Jordan Roper drained a three at 5:41 to give Clemson a 22-13 lead, and it would grow as large as 13 before the Tigers settled for a 31-21 cushion at intermission.
The eventual winners were aided by a 55 percent shooting clip over the first 20 minutes while Wake was woeful from the floor, making just seven of 28 shots for 25 percent.
That percentage would hold the remainder of the night, preventing the Deacons from mounting any sort of rally.
“It was a really solid defensive performance and that was the key to tonight’s win,” Brownell said. “K.J., Book and even (Landry Nnoko) were a big part of us defending them. And we were opportunistic on offense.”