Tigers fall at Wake

K.C. Rivers/AP

Clemson knew its ACC Tournament fate long before it hit the floor Sunday night at Joel Coliseum in Greensboro, N.C. But unfortunately for the 18th-ranked Tigers, the Wake Forest Demons Deacons knew what a win for them might mean.

Thanks to North Carolina's victory over Duke earlier in the day, No. 10 Wake locked up the second seed in next week's ACC Tournament in Atlanta with a 96-88 victory. The Tigers will be the No. 5 seed.

Florida State eliminated Clemson (23-7, 9-7) from first-round bye consideration with a win over Virginia Tech earlier in the afternoon.

"We did a lot good things during the game and played well in stretches and took it to them," Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. "We were up 10 in the first half. We just have to put it together for a whole game."

Despite knowing their ACC fate, the Tigers played inspired basketball in the first 20 minutes. Clemson led by as many as 10 points and controlled the last seven minutes of the half.

"We are real close to playing well, and you saw that there a little bit in the first half, but we shot ourselves in the foot a little bit," Purnell said. "We just have to get a little smarter than that going into the ACC Tournament with the stakes getting a little bit higher."

Down 23-19 with 8:25 to play, Clemson went on a 15-3 run as K.C. Rivers scored eight straight points at one point, including two bombs from behind the arc. Trevor Booker, 18 points and 10 rebounds, then capped the run with a dunk for a 34-26 lead.

Demontez Stitt, who scored a career-high 21 points, was a thorn in the side of the Deacons for much of the afternoon. Wake's Jeff Teague was unable to guard the 6-foo-2 sophomore as he scooped in one shot, drained a three-pointer and got two more layups before the end of the half.

He scored Clemson's last 10 points to close the half and gave Clemson a 44-34 lead with 1:19 to go before the break.

"He was in attack mode," Purnell said. "We are so much better of a team when he is attacking. One of the reasons he can attack is the reason people play us. They get out on K.C. and TO (Terrence Oglesby) and they are spying Book so once he breaks his guy down he has a great opportunity to get to the rim.

"He is so quick and is so good about finishing when he gets in there. He really has done that very well over the last three or four ball games."

But Wake changed the flow of the game before the half came, using a 6-0 run, including a dunk in transition by freshman Al-Farouq Aminu with two second to go to make the score 44-40 at halftime.

"A lot of that was our own doing," Purnell said. "The play that sticks out in my mind was we got an outbounds underneath their basket and we actually throw it to their basket basically for a layup. It seems we had another not so smart play right there on that stretch, and that 6-0 run really hurt.

"That stretch right there was really costly to us, I think."

Wake (23-5, 11-5) kept the momentum going in the second half by hitting its first nine shots and scoring a season-high 56 points in a half against the Clemson defense. The Tigers had no answer for James Johnson.

The sophomore finished the night with 21 points, including 17 in the second half. Aminu also had 21 points for the Demon Deacons, along with 10 rebounds.

Johnson penetrated the lane with ease, along with Teague, as Wake dominated the Tigers in the paint.

"The talent they have is outstanding," Purnell said. "Johnson is going to be a lottery pick whether he goes out this year or next year. We know what Teague can do. Johnson was really, really good today."

Still Rivers, who also scored 21 points, and Stitt were able to keep Clemson in front as a Rivers to Booker dunk in transition gave the Tigers a 54-49 lead around the 16-minute mark. However, Teague knocked down a three to start an 11-3 Wake run and then Aminu completed a three-point play the old fashion way to give the Deacons a 65-64 lead, and they never trailed again.

From there, Wake was able to extend its lead to as many as 14 points and most of that came with Teague on the bench with four fouls. Teague committed his fourth foul with 12:40 to play and with his team up three, 62-59.

When he came back in the game about six minutes later, the Deacons had increased their lead to nine, 78-69. A lot of that had to do with Ishmael Smith. He finished the game with 13 points and six rebounds.

"They just kept things going. Now that is a guy that has really been playing well for them the last five ball games," Purnell said. "He played well today. He controlled the ball game and hit a few of those runners that are his shot.

"That really, really hurt us."

Up next for the Tigers, the ACC Tournament on Thursday. Clemson will play Georgia Tech, a team it has beaten twice already this season, at 2:30 p.m. in Atlanta's Georgia Dome.

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