Wake Forest led for nearly the entire game, but absolutely collapsed down the stretch and fell to Clemson, 73-68. The Demon Deacons found themselves up 68-61 with the ball and 3:32 left, yet Wake Forest failed to score for the remainder of the game. It was a horrific combination of missed shots, bad looks, awful turnovers, poor defense, horrific lineup decisions, and a total failure to get the best player the ball a single touch on offense.
Keyshawn Woods missed the front end of a one-and-one with 3:17 to play. It was Wake’s only missed free throw of the game, but it was also the last time they’d get back to the charity stripe. Clemson’s Donte Grantham immediately came down and drained a three with 3:10 remaining to make it 68-64, Wake Forest. It was a potential five-point swing in just 7 seconds.
Crawford and Collins were on the bench. We had Woods, Wilbekin Crawford, Arians, Mitoglou. I don’t know, but maybe it isn’t a great idea to sit your two best players at the same time late in a critical conference game.
Wake’s next possession ended in a missed three-pointer by Woods, and was made even worse when Austin Arians committed a loose ball foul 90 feet away from Clemson’s basket to give Grantham a trip to the line. It’s admittedly a small sample size, but he was a 90% foul shooter entering today’s game. Fortunately he made just one of two, so Wake Forest had the ball up three with 2:33 remaining.
Did Wake respond by doing something logical and getting the ball inside to John Collins, who finished the game with 20 points on just 13 field goal attempts? No, instead Brandon Childress, who was in over Mitchell Wilbekin and finished the game 0-7 from the field, took a three before Collins could touch the ball.
Austin Arians proceeded to get blown by for a layup, and just like that Wake, who was up by as many as 13 in the second half, was up just one. Arians followed that up by trying to force it through two defenders to get it to John Collins. I don’t think the great Chris Paul could have made that pass.
Wake remained up one with the ball and 1:34 remaining and Manning called a timeout. Manning finally put Wilbekin in over Childress. Out of the timeout, Clemson did a nice job of denying Collins the ball in the post. Rather than trying to whip the ball around the perimeter, Arians attempted a skip pass to the opposite corner that was easily intercepted and taking down the court for an and-one to put Clemson up 70-68.
Wake’s next possession involved a missed pullup by Bryant Crawford. There was no semblance of offense, and that’s beyond unacceptable. The Deacs were fortunate that Clemson missed some free throws down the stretch and allowed Wake to have hope. The Deacs had the ball down just three with 29 seconds to go. Normally I’m fine with letting the team play it out, but Wake’s initial look was a slightly forced and contested three pointer by Woods with 20 seconds to go that came after zero ball movement. Collins finally touched the ball on offense, of course he had to grab an offensive rebound in order to do it, and then had a nice kick out to Mitchell Wilbekin, who missed his attempt. Clemson grabbed the rebound, and Jaron Blossomgame dunked the ball after a scramble to seal the game. In total, Wake Forest failed to score during the final 4:51 and Clemson ended the game on a 15-0 run.
The Deacs finished with 16 turnovers to Clemson’s 11, and Bryant Crawford and Keyshawn Woods combined for 9 of them. Collins, Crawford, and Woods combined for 52 of Wake’s 68 points. Crawford and Woods didn’t do everything perfect in this game, but they needed more help from those around them.
That collapse wasn’t as bad as last season’s epic collapse to Virginia, a game that was statistically safe, but this one felt worse given the importance of the game. I felt that Wake had to have this game because of Wake’s upcoming challenging games against Virginia and North Carolina. It was looking outstanding with 6 minutes to go, and still fine with 3:30 remaining, but Clemson did not quit. Wake Forest was entirely too lackadaisical. They routinely fail to value the basketball, and seem to not realize just how important every possession truly is.
The Deacs failed to get their best player the ball in crucial moments. Collins doesn’t even have to shoot it, but just getting him a touch leads to open lanes for cutters and open looks for shooters. Wake went away from its offense, and deserved to lose at the end. It was simply infuriating and incredibly painful to watch them blow it all away. They were right there, and blew it. Wake has now failed to execute late in games against Northwestern, Xavier, Florida State, and Clemson. Truly awful situational basketball.
Were there positive things in this game? Yes, I thought Wake Forest did an excellent job of getting the ball inside to John Collins early in the game, and especially with 13 minutes remaining in the game after Clemson’s Elijah Thomas picked up his fourth foul. Wake also did a very nice job of keeping Clemson off the offensive glass, and won the rebounding battle 38-33.
Wake Forest will look for its first ACC win on Tuesday evening when they host Boston College.