K.J. McDaniels had made plenty of spectacular plays this season. In four ACC road wins prior to their Winston-Salem trip, he averaged 18 points per game, scoring as much as 26 at Florida State.
But the junior swingman might be thinking about two free throws when it comes to Selection Sunday.
Going into the matchup, the Birmingham, Ala. native was among the ACC leaders at the charity stripe (87 percent), but playing minute 32 of his 33 on the night, McDaniels was looking gassed after a foul on a rebound — his team down 56-54.
With 1:39 to go and in the bonus at the line, McDaniels’ first attempt was an air-ball. The next careened off the back of the rim to redshirt freshman forward Jaron Blossomgame, who tipped it unwittingly to Wake’s Codi Miller-McIntyre for a run-out and layup.
He was fouled. He made the free throw. And Clemson suffered a five-point swing they couldn’t overcome en route to an NCAA Tourney-hopes-devastating 62-57 loss at Wake Forest.
McDaniels had a tough shooting night, but the toughest when the Demon Deacons switched to a zone in the second half. He made 3-of-11 attempts overall, scoring only three of his 10 points in the final 20 minutes.
As a team, the Tigers followed 50 percent shooting in the first half with 36 percent in the second.
“Our best player had a tough night,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “K.J. has played great all season, but he had a tough night tonight and we didn’t do enough to help him. This is one of those nights that we as a team could help that guy at times. He probably got a little frustrated.”
Clemson was sloppy at times in the first 20 minutes, with nine turnovers, but made up for it in hustle.
They led by as much as five until a mini-Deacs run tied it up at 14 with under 10 left in the first half. Tight until the under-five mark, Clemson started to find its shooting stroke and transition game.
A Rod Hall three started a 9-0 run, and the Tigers led 30-23 at the half. They were plus-10 in rebound margin with seven offensive boards to none for the Deacs.
That script flipped from the get-go out of the locker room.
Wake Forest sped out to a 12-4 run and 35-34 lead with 15 minutes left. Back-and-forth action didn’t start to decidedly break the home team’s way until a hoop-and-free throw combo from sophomore forward Arnaud William Adala Moto at the nine and a half mark.
In the final 10 minutes, the Deacs shot 9-of-12 from the field and finished 55 percent on the game. They were plus-eight in rebound margin in the second half.
Lost in the loss, junior guard Damarcus Harrison put together a third consecutive double-digit scoring game, a career-first, with 15 (three 3-pointers).
“I told our guys at halftime, ‘The biggest thing I can tell you is we haven’t been in this position in a while,’” said Brownell. “’We haven’t been up seven. We’ve been down...Just go play good at the beginning of the second half. Now you have to go out and do the same thing.
“'You better step on their throat and tell them that they’re not going to have a chance tonight. Play the first four minutes well,' and we just didn’t do it at all.”
Still playing for a strong ACC Tournament seeding, the Tigers finish their regular-season slate at home with Maryland (Sunday), Miami (March 4) and Pittsburgh (March 8).