Feb. 12, 2004
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Olu Babalola scored a career high 22 points and Clemson shot nearly 54 percent from the field, best against the Demon Deacons in 57 games, but it was not enough as the Tigers dropped an 82-67 decision to 18th ranked (ESPN/Coach’s poll) to Wake Forest on Thursday night. Wake Forest, who had lost six of its last eight, improved to 14-6 overall, 5-5 in the ACC. Clemson fell to 9-12 overall, 2-8 in the ACC.
The victory gave Wake Forest a season sweep over the Tigers and both victories were by exactly 15 points. Earlier this year Wake Forest defeated Clemson 78-63 in Winston-Salem. It was Clemson’s fourth straight game against a top 25 team, just the fifth time in school history Clemson has played four straight against ranked opponents.
The two games with Wake Forest were similar in terms of the flow of the game. In the first meeting back on January 10, Wake Forest led 32-23 at halftime despite shooting 0-7 on three-point. Wake Forest had a 32-25 lead and had shot just 2-12 from three-point land in the first half on Thursday.
In the first meeting in Winston Salem, Clemson mounted a second half rally to cut the lead to 51-48 with 9:15 left before losing by 15. On Thursday, Clemson rallied to cut Wake Forest’s lead to 51-48 with 10:31 left before losing by 15.
Clemson shot 22-41 from the field for the game, 53.7 percent, including 6-11 on three-point shots, 54.5 percent. Clemson’s 53.7 percent field goal shooting was the best against Wake Forest in the last 57 games dating to a 54.7 overall field goal percentage by Maryland against Wake Forest in 2001-02, the Terps National Championship season. Only a top 10 Texas team (.517) and number-one ranked Duke (.519) had shot over 50 percent from the field against Wake Forest this season.
Clemson was coming off a 46 percent shooting effort at Duke, best against the Blue Devils in the last 18 games.
The keys to Thursday’s game were free throw shooting and rebounding. Clemson made just 17-34 from the line for 50 percent, while Wake Forest was 28-35 for 80 percent. Clemson committed 20 turnovers and forced just 11. Clemson entered the game leading the ACC in rebounding, but Wake Forest had the upper hand 30-27 on Thursday evening.
Babalola’s 22 points came on 5-7 shooting from the field, 2-3 on three-point shots and 10-12 from the foul line. He had just one turnover in his productive 27 minutes. He had scored 17 points in a game twice previously in his career, once last year at Georgia Tech, and earlier this year in a win over Wofford. He now has 36 points in his last two games in Littlejohn Coliseum.
Supporting Babalola was Chey Christie, who had 10 points, five assists and just two turnovers in 29 minutes. Lamar Rice added nine points in just 18 minutes on 3-3 shooting, including 2-2 on three-point shots, while Vernon Hamilton added eight points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals.
Wake Forest was led by Justin Gray, who scored 29 points on 7-13 shooting, 4-9 on three-point goals and 11-12 from the foul line. It was the most free throws made by a Clemson opponent this year. His scoring total was the second most against Clemson this year, trailing only the 36 by B.J. Elder of Georgia Tech. He also had five assists and no turnovers in 33 minutes. Gray shot just 3-14 and scored just nine points against Clemson in the first meeting between the two teams.
Babalola made a similar turnaround for Clemson from the last meeting with the Demon Deacons. He did not score in eight minutes in the first game in Winston-Salem.
Supporting Gray were freshman guard Chris Paul, who scored 16 and had five assists. Jamaal Levy added 12 points and a game high eight rebounds before he fouled out. Chris Ellis, who had made just five field goals all year, was 3-4 in the game and scored a season high eight points in just 11 minutes.
Clemson out-shot Wake Forest 47 percent to 34.5 percent in the first half, yet trailed by seven at halftime. It was a four-point game at 54-50 with 9:52 left when Wake Forest went on a 15-2 run to take a 69-52 lead with 6:29 left on a steal and layup by Taron Downey. Clemson went on a 9-3 run to cut the margin to 72-61 with 2:52 left, but the Tigers never got the margin under 10 the rest of the game.
“We need to do a better job of defending and rebounding,” said Clemson head coach Oliver Purnell. “We shot 54 percent from the floor, but Wake Forest shot 66 percent in the second half. Combine that with the fact that we were horrible from the foul line, and that is the tale of the tape. We have to make free throws. We were doing a good job getting to the line, but we never took advantage of it. In the first half they were 10-10 and we were 6-16.”
“I thought Clemson just kept fighting scratching and clawing. But, that is typical of Oliver’s teams. We were just fortunate that we made more of our free throws than they did. That was probably the difference in the game.”
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