March 1, 2003
By DAVID DROSCHAKAP Sports Writer
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Wake Forest can finally start peeking around the corner and think about finishing off what has become a dream season.
Josh Howard had 29 points, including a career-best six 3-pointers, as the 12th-ranked Demon Deacons moved closer to their first outright ACC title since 1962 with an 80-68 victory over Clemson on Saturday.
“We told them about a week ago, `You’ve got three weeks to work and you’ve got the rest of your life to remember,”‘ coach Skip Prosser said. “`For the rest of your lives you’ll remember you were part of a group of guys that not a whole lot was expected of. When you get out in the real world you will be able to point to this experience. For the rest of your life no one should be able to tell you you can’t do something.’
“In my humble opinion, life lessons is what this is all about,” Prosser added. “Now it’s down to one week to work.”
The Demon Deacons (21-4, 11-3), picked to finish sixth in the Atlantic Coast Conference preseason poll, matched last year’s win total and pulled one game ahead of Duke and Maryland with one week left in the regular season.
Howard scored 19 points in the first half and finished 10-for-16 from the field as the Demon Deacons have won nine of 10 conference games. That’s the best ACC run in the same season since the title team 41 years ago.
“A great season, a great team,” Clemson coach Larry Shyatt said of the Demon Deacons. “At different times in different games they have different lineups – all of them being synonymous with success.”
Wake Forest closes its regular season Wednesday against North Carolina at home – where it has won 16 straight – and is at N.C. State on Saturday. The Demon Deacons beat both teams earlier in the year.
Howard sprained his right ankle in the first half when he landed on another player’s foot, but he continued to play and logged 32 minutes.
“It’s a typical ankle sprain,” Howard said before heading to get treatment for the injury. “I’m not going to do what I did last year and keep playing on it. I am going to take care of it tonight.”
Meanwhile, the Tigers (15-10, 5-9) fell into a four-way tie for fifth in the ACC with Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Virginia. They missed 14 of their first 17 shots and went on a costly five-minute scoring drought in the middle of the second half.
“It will be won on the court,” Edward Scott said when asked about breaking out of the log jam in the middle of the ACC. “We’ve been in a lot of close games and this is a great opportunity for us this coming week.”
Clemson has lost two straight after winning three consecutive league games for the first time since 1996-97. Scott led the way with 27 points, but the senior guard took 29 shots.
Clemson grabbed 23 offensive rebounds and tied a school record with just six turnovers.
“It’s sad we had to waste a couple of records when we lost the game,” Shyatt said. “I wanted our guys to believe they could come in here and steal a game on the road and they did believe that, but we missed too many shots.”
Wake Forest won despite being outscored 36-18 in the paint and 26-7 on fastbreak points.
“I’m still not sure how we won the game,” Prosser said.
After falling behind by 14 points in the opening seconds of the second half, Clemson closed to 44-42 as Chey Christie scored 12 of his 18 points in the opening 3:32.
The Demon Deacons, one of the nation’s best free throw shooting teams at 76.5 percent, also allowed the Tigers to hang around by missing 13 of their first 27 shots from the line.
However, a 12-0 run sealed it for Wake Forest as the Tigers became unglued. Clemson missed eight straight shots and the front end of a 1-and-1 and Shyatt picked up an ill-advised technical foul that helped the Demon Deacons to a 60-45 lead with 7:58 left.
Howard had nearly twice as many points as Clemson in the opening 7:40 as he hit five of his first seven shots, including three 3-pointers as the Demon Deacons went up 18-6.
Less than three minutes later the lead reached 15 before the Tigers closed to 26-20 with Howard on the bench resting. But seconds after his return, Howard nailed his career-best fourth shot behind the arc.
“I felt like the basket was a big old bucket or something,” Howard said. “I’ve been working on my game, working on my shot the whole year and it’s finally paying off.”
Howard added a follow shot and a free throw as Wake Forest closed the half with an 11-5 run for a 12-point lead.
Howard’s fifth 3-pointer 2:41 into the second half was the 100th of his career as Wake Forest beat Clemson for the 13th straight time at Joel Coliseum.
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