Tigers Lose in Familiar Fashion

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – If there isn't a "Three Strikes and You're Out" policy with the Clemson basketball team, maybe there should be. Three times this season, the Tigers have gone into the final seconds with a three-point lead and all three times the opposition has nailed a three-pointer to tie it and send it into overtime, where Clemson eventually lost.

The culprit this time was Wake Forest's Justin Gray, who drained a fade-away three-pointer from the left wing with 4.3 seconds left to tie it and send the Tigers to their fourth overtime game of the season.

Once in the extra session, the Demon Deacons hit 9-of-11 free throws, while Clemson went scoreless over the final 1:17 and Wake Forest grabbed a 74-68 victory Wednesday night at Joel Coliseum, all but ending the Tigers' hopes for an NCAA Tournament berth.

At some point it seems the basketball gods will look down upon the Tigers (15-11, 4-9 ACC) and actually grant them a win. Either that or summon head coach Oliver Purnell to foul and send the trailing team to the free throw line.

"I told our guys that if we foul, no big deal," Purnell said. "Let's be very, very aggressive on them and use a foul that way."

Purnell said he never thought about intentionally fouling the Demon Deacons (14-13, 2-11 ACC), who earned just their second conference victory of the season. It's a philosophy that he's lived by and died by. But this time, not fouling might have been the right thing to do.

The Tigers allowed three offensive rebounds off of missed Wake Forest free throws. Who's to say the Demon Deacons wouldn't have grabbed the offensive rebound again after missing the second attempt on purpose?

Purnell said his "ultimate fear" was for them to get the offensive rebound off the missed free throw, kick it out and nail a three-pointer for the win. In this game, that's not so illogical.

"I don't like (the not fouling philosophy) because it hasn't worked," Purnell said. "But if you watched the game, we had trouble rebounding on free throws. You can lose the game there. …

"We've had trouble rebounding free throws late in games an awful and that really cost us in this game."

The final seconds might have never occurred if not for the outstanding play of Clemson freshman K.C. Rivers.

With Wake Forest leading 51-42 with 9:13 left to play and the game about to get out of hand, Purnell walked down his bench with a lost look on his face hoping to find an answer to stop the bleeding.

With no options, he called upon Rivers, who was saddled with four fouls and had yet to score a single point.

Rivers went in and matter of 3:30, he scored 11 straight points for Clemson had had single handedly brought the Tigers back from the dead and tied it at 53-53 with 5:27 left to play.

"Coach told me to still play aggressive and not to worry about the fouls and that's what I did," Rivers said. "You've got to play ball."

Clemson then snagged a 58-55 lead with 1:26 left after another Rivers three-pointer. The two teams each added two points to set up Gray's heroics in the closing seconds of regulation.

"If Justin's shot hadn't gone in, we'd be talking about a recurring theme by not being able to handle the ball against pressure and not making free throws," Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser said. "Fortunately it did (go in)."

In the closing moments in overtime, Wake held a 70-68 lead, but the Tigers had the ball and had a chance to either tie it or take the lead. They ran a set play out of bounds to Cliff Hammonds, who launched an open three from just right of the top of the key and it clanged off the rim and into the hands of a waiting Demon Deacon, which essentially ended any hopes of winning.

"That's the way the world rolls," said Rivers, whole led Clemson with 16 points. "Everything's not going to go your way. You've just to take and roll with it."