CLEMSON, S.C. — Just when Wake Forest seemed ready to take another small step in its quest to return to ACC relevance, it found itself blocked.
Again and again.
And when Clemson wasn’t blocking 11 shots in its 60-44 victory against the Deacons on Tuesday night in Littlejohn Coliseum, the Deacons were so frazzled they wound up shooting just 24.6 percent from the field.
“They owned the rim,” Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik said.
Owned it and refused admission to the Deacons, who have still just won one ACC road game in Bzdelik’s two-plus seasons.
“It affected us a lot being a young team on the road,” said Wake Forest forward Travis McKie, whose 4-for-13 shooting performance almost glittered on the Deacons’ side of the post-game stat sheet.
For historical perspective, it was the Deacons’ worst-shooting game since 1964 – a home court loss to the Tigers. That game was also the only time Clemson (10-6, 2-2) has held an opponent to a lower field goal percentage than it did Tuesday night.
After home-court victories against Virginia and Boston College, Wake Forest (9-7, 2-2) rode a modest wave of momentum to Clemson but early foul trouble to McKie and freshman Devin Thomas blunted the good vibes. The Deacons led 11-9 when both McKie and Thomas went to the bench with two fouls and it precipitated a 15-2 Clemson run.
Clemson’s success is predicated on grinding defense, which doesn’t often produce pretty games but can have the desired effect. The Tigers’ primary defensive goal was containing Wake Forest guard C.J. Harris, the team’s leading scorer.
Harris managed just eight points, barely half of his 15.7 average, and the Deacons were otherwise lost.
“We just wanted to make it harder on (Harris),” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “We wanted to know where he was and find him in transition. I thought for 35 of 40 minutes, we had really good transition defense.”
Take Thomas out of Wake Forest’s first-half equation (seven points on 3-for-4 shooting), and the Deacons’ other freshmen combined to miss all of their 15 field goal attempts.
“They were second-guessing their shots,” said Clemson’s K.J. McDaniels, who had seven blocked shots and finished with 14 points, most of them off transition opportunities created by the Clemson defense.
No Deacon struggled more than freshman forward Tyler Cavanaugh, who drew extra duty while Thomas battled foul trouble. Cavanaugh missed all seven shot attempts in the first half and was 0-for-11 when he finally muscled in a rebound basket late in the game. Cavanaugh looked surprised to see the ball go in and barked “Yes” out of relief.
“You probably had some young guys getting frustrated,” Bzdelik said. “We forced a couple of shots and it really got into their heads.”
Wake made just seven of 28 field goal attempts in the first half.