Using a tenacious defense and the play-making ability of Jeff Teague, who is quickly emerging as the best player in the ACC, the Deacons ended No. 9 Clemson's 16-game winning streak, concluding an impressive week that saw wins over No. 6 North Carolina and Boston College with a 78-68 win at Littlejohn Coliseum Saturday.
Teague scored 24 points, dished out five assists, had two steals and kept his composure against Clemson's full court pressure all afternoon long to lead the Deacs to the win.
"We’ve got a lion leading us," Wake Forest head coach Deano Gaudio said afterwards. "He puts
tremendous pressure on the defense because he can get to the rim and he
can shoot the three. He can also get to the line and that’s good for us."
Also in case you missed it, the Tigers look to be pretty good in their own right.
Despite the fact Clemson was on the wrong end of a 78-68 score, the nation's ninth-ranked team had its chances, even after missing a countless number of free throws and close shots to the rim.
"What I told the team afterwards was that we are a good team that didn't play well," head coach Oliver Purnell said. "Wake had something to do with that but we left a lot of stuff out on the table that we didn't do.
"We didn't really stick our plan and if you don't stick to your plan against an excellent team then you are going to get beat."
In what seemed more like a heavyweight fight the first 20 minutes, both teams felt each other out but it was Wake that took a 32-27 lead after a 6-1 run into halftime.
Clemson was somewhat fortunate considering it shot just just 9-of-35 from the field but then again neither team scored the final 3:38 of the first half so it was also a case of missed opportunities.
"We missed some easy shots and then we didn't react very well on the defensive end of the court," Purnell said of the stretch. "Any time you don't score a bunch and the other team doesn't score a bunch you miss opportunities.
"A game can be won going into the half and coming out. We didn't go in on a roll and we didn't come out on a roll either."
Those missed opportunities would be a theme that would continue to plague the Tigers' comeback hopes in the second half.
Wake Forest scored the first five points out of halftime as part of a 15-2 run to pull out in front comfortably, 41-29. After the Deacs established a 14-point advantage at 58-44 with 9:42 left, the Tigers would finally make a run.
After working the margin to 61-53, Terrence Oglesby hit a deep three-pointer from the right side before Demontez Stitt converted a layup after a steal to bring the Tigers with three.
Trevor Booker managed just nine points on 3-of-9 shooting against the athletic front line of the Demon Deacons.
Following two Trevor Booker free throws after another steal, it appeared Clemson was in position to pull off the comeback, trailing 61-60 with just under four minutes to play.
"I told our team we just needed to play through it and not to panic," Gaudio said. "We knew they were going to make a run but as I've told my guys all year, we just needed to play through it and not panic and that's exactly what they did."
Indeed, because it was all Wake Forest after that.
Al-Farouq Aminu converted the second of two earth-shattering dunks to put Wake back on top by three before a free throw, another dunk by James Johnson and a layup by Teague gave the Deacs a working margin again.
The Tigers would get no closer than eight points the rest of the way before eventually falling by 10.
"I thought that we showed a lot of heart today," Gaudio said. "When Clemson cut the lead
to one, it was pretty loud in here. But our team showed resiliency. It was
a terrific win."
K.C. Rivers and Terrence Oglesby led the way for Clemson with 15 points apiece, and Demontez Stitt added 13, but that was just about all the Tigers' offense could muster.
Trevor Booker and Ray Sykes made just six of their 20 shot attempts and were constantly disrupted by Wake's enormous size and outstanding athleticism in the post with players like James Johnson, Aminu and even Chas McFarland.
"We tried to limit his [Booker's] touches," Gaudio said. "One of three things can happen; they score,
we foul or we get the ball. Only one of those things is good, so we tried
to play them before they could catch the ball."
As a result, Clemson converted just 33.8 percent of its field goals for the game, including 21 percent (5-of-23) from behind the arc.
The Tigers were also dismal from the charity stripe, converting on just 11-of-20 attempts. Meanwhile Teague made 13-of-18 by himself.
While the first loss of the season is always tough, the immediate future looks equally as daunting. Next up the Tigers travel to Chapel Hill, N.C. home of the preseason No. 1 team in the nation in the North Carolina Tar Heels.
"We are going to be ready," Oglesby said. "We are going to move forward and obviously they have great players and it will be a big challenge."
And for Wake Forest? There's little doubt the Deacs have proven they are one of the best teams in the country, if not the best.
Ranked No. 3 in the nation, blessed with NBA talent up and down its roster and now 16-0 and fresh off of wins over North Carolina and Clemson in the same week, how could they not be?