CLEMSON — Clemson’s defense led the way again – and that’s just the way coach Brad Brownell and the Tigers like it.
Brownell leaned heavily on quick, aggressive, relentless defense, the kind that wears out opponents and leads to easy, fast-break layups. The Tigers got all of that Tuesday night in a 60-44 victory over Wake Forest, their fourth straight win in the series.
K.J. McDaniels scored 14 points and had career highs with nine rebounds and seven blocks while Clemson held a second straight Atlantic Coast Conference opponent to fewer than 45 points for the first time in school history.
“Before the season started, we wanted to be a team that was known for our defense, not our offense,” McDaniels said. “Our offense comes from our defense, honestly.”
And Brownell knows all too well that’s how Clemson (10-6, 2-2) can contend in the ACC.
“Our players know that where our bread is buttered,” the third-year coach said.
The Tigers held the Demon Deacons to their lowest point total this season as McDaniels led an aggressive defensive attack that kept Wake Forest’s two leading scorers, C.J. Harris and Travis McKie, to 20 points – 11 points below their combined average coming in. All of Harris’ 8 points came in the opening period.
Adonis Filer scored 13 points and Devin Booker added 12 points and eight rebounds for the Tigers.
McKie led the Demon Deacons (9-7, 2-2) with 12 points, but struggled against Clemson’s inside defense and was just 4-of-13 shooting. Wake Forest shot under 25 percent (15 of 61) and had just three assists.
Clemson put the game away early with a 23-7 run in the first half. Milton Jennings and Rod Hall had five points each and Booker four points during the surge to put the Tigers ahead 27-15.
Wake Forest never came closer than 10 points the rest of the way.
McDaniels all but sealed things right after halftime, banking in a jumper and following with a 3-pointer while the Demon Deacons missed their first eight shots of the period. He was a rebound and three blocks away from a triple-double, something McDaniels knew he was approaching.
“My legs started giving out on me, but that’s something I’m going to have to push through,” he said.
Devin Thomas was the only other Wake Forest player in double figures with 11 points. McKie led the team with 11 rebounds.
Wake Forest was picked to finish 11th of 12 ACC teams this preseason, but had opened a surprising 2-1 after victories against Virginia and Boston College at home. The road, though, poses a much more difficult test for the Demon Deacons, who struggled to make shots early against Clemson’s aggressive defense.
Clemson turned up its defense during the decisive stretch as it held the Demon Deacons without a basket for nearly 9 minutes. McDaniels, a 6-foot-6 sophomore, wiped out consecutive shots with big-time blocks, swatting away an attempt near the hoop by Arnaud Adala Moto before leaping up moments later to deny Tyler Cavanaugh.
All the Demon Deacons’ points in the first half came from three players in Harris, McKie and Dein Thomas. The rest of the Wake Forest lineup was 0 of 15 from the field.
Wake Forest finished just 25 percent from the field (7 of 28) in the opening period. That was Clemson’s best defensive showing of any half this season.
Clemson got a boost from freshman guard Jordan Roper, who returned to action after missing last Saturday’s win over Virginia with an ankle sprain. Roper had three of Clemson’s six 3-pointers.
The Tigers kept up the hot shooting that began in the second half against Virginia when they shot 77 percent (10 of 13). Clemson was 12 of 22 (54.5 percent) in the first half against Wake Forest.
Cavanaugh struggled the most for the Demon Deacons. He was 0 for 11 before making his only bucket on a short put-back.
Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik said his players will have to learn to overcome the strong defenses they’ll continue to see in ACC play. “You’ve got to score and we didn’t score,” he said.
Clemson will have its hands full trying to hold a third straight ACC opponent to fewer than 45 points when it plays at No. 14 North Carolina State on Sunday. The Wolfpack are the ACC leader at nearly 82 points a game this season.
Brownell said the past two performances should show his players that the hard work they put in at practice can pay off.
“When you win the way you want to win, it should give you some confidence,” he said.
WAKE FOREST (9-7): Thomas 5-8 1-2 11, McKie 4-13 4-4 12, Adala Moto 0-5 2-2 2, Miller-McIntyre 1-7 0-0 2, Harris 2-7 2-2 8, Jones 1-6 1-2 3, Fischer 1-2 0-0 2, Washington 0-0 0-0 0, Rountree III 0-1 1-2 1, Cavanaugh 1-12 1-1 3. Totals 15-61 12-15 44.
CLEMSON (10-6): Jennings 2-5 0-0 5, McDaniels 6-13 1-3 14, Booker 4-9 4-5 12, Hall 2-5 1-1 5, Harrison 1-4 0-0 2, Filer 4-6 4-5 13, Roper 3-5 0-0 9, Sullivan 0-1 0-0 0, Nnoko 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 22-49 10-14 60.
Halftime–Clemson 31-21. 3-Point Goals–Wake Forest 2-10 (Harris 2-2, McKie 0-1, Fischer 0-1, Miller-McIntyre 0-1, Adala Moto 0-2, Cavanaugh 0-3), Clemson 6-14 (Roper 3-4, Jennings 1-2, Filer 1-2, McDaniels 1-5, Harrison 0-1). Fouled Out–None. Rebounds–Wake Forest 42 (McKie 11), Clemson 36 (McDaniels 9). Assists–Wake Forest 3 (Jones, McKie, Miller-McIntyre 1), Clemson 10 (Hall 7). Total Fouls–Wake Forest 18, Clemson 17. A–7,291.