CLEMSON – In a tough inside battle versus a gritty, better shooting Wake Forest team, Clemson not quite as effective from the field lost a close decision in a recent battle of unbeaten squads.
Utilizing height and reach to their distinct advantage, the then No. 1 ranked Demon Deacons, who are currently the top team in the nation, exited the floor of Littlejohn Coliseum Saturday (Jan. 17) with a hardfought 10 point (78-68) win over the host ninth ranked Tigers.
Dino Gaudioâ€™s â€˜Deacons, who shot 48 per cent from the field, turned the battle of Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) foes in their favor by dropping in 48 points in the paint.
And on the defensive side of things, the visitors from Winston-Salem, N.C. aided their successful effort by hurting the inside play of the Tigers with their long reach. During the game, the Demon Deacons blocked 11 shots.
Such a defense against the strategy of the home players proved to be instrumental in the outcome of the game wherein the Tigers fought back to close within one point (60-61), when forward Trevor Booker sank a pair of free throws with 4:54 remaining in the ACC marquee encounter.
But a positive comeback was not to be for Oliver Purnellâ€™s charges, who ultimately fell to will of a Wake Forest group that simply wouldnâ€™t be denied in its apparent ongoing quest to be the best at the end of the season.
Although disappointed by the outcome of the contest that his Tigers shot 39% from the field in, Purnell, during postgame comments was still optimistic about their chance going forward.
"I think we have a good basketball team and didnâ€™t play good," the Clemson mentor said. "I donâ€™t look at it so much as a show me game or (us) being under the radar. Weâ€™re in the ACC. Because we are, night in and night out weâ€™re going to play good teams.
"What I was encouraged by was how we fought against a team that is obviously a very good one. Hopefully, we can learn from our experience (in this game), and improve as move on from here."
Added team captain K.C. Rivers, "We know we didnâ€™t play at our best (today). This definitely hurt our chances to win. But you have to give Wake Forest credit; we lost to a very good basketball team.
"Iâ€™m not worried about us, at this point, "Rivers continued. "We donâ€™t feel good right now, but weâ€™ll bounce back and be a much-better basketball team because of this game."
Lauding his players for being mentally tough throughout the game, Gaudio said the Tigers made them do a number of things to win the game.
"We beat a very good Clemson team that fought very hard against us," said the Demon Deacons coach. "But weâ€™ve been in a lot of situations already this season where we had to overcome certain things.
"This was a tough place to play in. Iâ€™m so proud of our players, and how they played together to get this win."