Photo by Bob Hebert - More Wake-Clemson photos here
Led by seniors Ish Smith and Chas McFarland, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons did everything they could on Senior Night in Winston-Salem to cement an NCAA tournament berth. Al-Farouq Aminu pitched in 18 points and 12 rebounds to respond from a 0 point, 5 foul outing last week against Florida State as Wake Forest took care of the Clemson Tigers 70-65.
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On a night where the seniors of Wake Forest were honored before the game, it turned out that Chas McFarland and Ishmael Smith perhaps saved their best performances for their last performance. Ish Smith led the Deacons with eye-popping numbers of 17 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds and 6 turnovers in 39 minutes. Chas McFarland, though seemingly not a big part of the game until it mattered, wound up with 11 points and 11 rebounds before he fouled out with two minutes to go.
After allowing Clemson to open up an early lead, the Deacons fought back to tie the game at 9 at the under 16 timeout. By that time Ish Smith already had 5 points, 2 assists, and a rebound. At this point, Clemson should have known they were in for a long night because their full court trapping defense was rendered useless for the most part on Smith, who was just too fast to be stopped many times. The majority of his mistakes actually came when he was going too fast, twice dribbling the ball off himself to the other team.
The turning point of the game could very well been the intentional foul by David Potter on Al-Farouq Aminu with just under eight minutes left in the first half. Aminu calmly sank both free throws to give Wake Forest a 21-16 lead, and then the Deacs were able to get a tip in to go up 23-16. This is a lead that Wake would never relinquish.
The game overall was one of great defense, bad decisions, and general sloppiness all-around. Wake Forest wound up with 18 turnovers and only 11 assists, and Clemson had 14 turnovers with only 9 assists This tempo would usually favor Clemson, who thrives on creating chaos all over the court. Tonight however, the game belonged to the Deacons.
Wake Forest led 31-29 at the half, and the seniors must have said something in the locker room because the Deacons came out possessed in the 2nd half and went on a 14-4 run and feeded off the crowed before Clemson could gather themselves again.
Clemson cut the lead to two or four several times but every time they got too close Chas McFarland would get a rebound and a putback or Ish Smith would hit a spinning shot on a fast break to respond.
The play of the game came from freshman CJ Harris. With the shot clock running down with just under eight minutes left, Tony Woods grabbed a rebound and passed to Harris, who lost track of time on the clock. With the whole stadium yelling shoot (including Dino Gaudio), Harris turned and fired a shot from about 3 feet behind the arc in an attempt to hit the rim. The ball cooly banked off the backboard and in to the net to give Wake Forest a 56-47 lead.
Although Clemson would cut the lead down to 58-56 with 4:46 left in the game, Ish Smith responded with a spinning shot in the lane to get the lead back to 60-56.
The Demon Deacons then knocked down almost all of their free throws, including two in a row by Ish Smith to seal the deal.
"We won the three sectors that we had to win; we got after them on the boards (44-33 in favor of Wake Forest), we played fantastic defense, and you know, when the Deacons shoot this well from the free throw line (18-22 for 82%), we usually win the ballgame," said Dino Gaudio.
Demontez Stitt led the Clemson Tigers in scoring with 18 points, all coming in the 2nd half. Forward Trevor Booker was held well below his average for the year, and finished with only 6 points on 2-8 shooting and 4 rebounds.
"I thought Chas was excellent. Trevor's not a good player, he's a great player. He plays him pretty well when he plays him. I think it was a lot of our big guys that did a pretty good defensive job on their big guys. I'm pleased for him. When you hold Trevor, who is an All-ACC player, to six points and four rebounds and (Jerai) Grant to eight points, our big guys came to play today." said Gaudio.
The biggest difference in the game was the rebounding and the second chance points for the Deacons. Wake won the rebounding battle 44-33. Chas McFarland and Al-Farouq Aminu proved to be too much down low for Trevor Booker and Jerai Grant. They combined for 29 points and 23 rebounds and often times grabbed two or three rebounds before finally laying or tipping it in.
"We had our backs to the wall a little bit, coming off those losses. When we had won four straight, three of them were at home and we were able to win an overtime game at Virginia. When we lost four straight, three of them were on the road and we lost to North Carolina at home last Saturday. There was no panic. They've been working hard all year. I'm just really happy for those guys." said head coach Gaudio.
With the victory, Wake Forest finishes the regular season at 19-9 (9-7) and garner the #5 seed in the upcoming ACC Tournament. They will play #12 seed Miami Hurricanes at 2:30 on Thursday, March 11th for the 57th edition of the ACC Tournament at Greensboro Coliseum. Clemson falls to 21-9 (9-7) and winds up with the #6. They will play #11 seed N.C. State at 9:30 in the last game of the day on Thursday.