March 6, 1998
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) – Clemson believed all along its midseason slump was traceable to nothing more than the injured right foot of No. 5 Terrell McIntyre.
The Tigers may have a point.
Clemson was 2-7 between Jan. 3 and Feb. 4 with the valuable point guard missing practices with a painful right foot injury. Since his return to practice and near 100 percent bill of health, Clemson is 6-2 and streaking into the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
The Tigers bolstered their NCAA postseason hopes Friday night, getting 21 points from Greg Buckner and 19 from McIntyre in a 75-56 victory over Wake Forest.
“If there is a word that could take the place of confidence, but a couple of notches higher, yeah, that’s how we feel with Terrell in there,” said Clemson’s Harold Jamison. “Terrell is like our general, especially now since he’s more verbal. It’s like a night and day turnaround. It seems like he makes everybody around him better. He just energizes the whole club.”
The No. 5 seeded Tigers (18-12) advanced to the semifinals to play No. 1 Duke, a team they battled down to the wire in one- and four-point losses during the regular season.
“We just defend and come out and play with intensity,” Jamison said when asked why the Tigers have given Duke trouble this year. “But we have to execute on offense, because if we don’t they can score points in a hurry.”
Clemson used an explosive 31-5 second-half run of its own to bury the fourth-seeded Demon Deacons (15-13), who may have seen their NCAA chances slip away.
Wake Forest finished tied with the Tigers for fourth in the ACC with a 7-9 league mark, but no at-large team has made the NCAA tourney field with only 15 wins since the event was expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
“Is that the hatchet on the neck? I don’t know,” said Wake Forest coach Dave Odom. “I think what it means is we really have to wait until Sunday now.”
Clemson coach Rick Barnes said the Demon Deacons deserve a berth.
“I’ve said all year long if you get seven wins in this league, you belong in the tournament,” he said.
The Tigers fell behind by double digits, but stormed back over the final 16 1/2 minutes behind McIntyre, Tony Christie and Buckner.
McIntyre sank a pair of 3-pointers during the run, while Christie had six points, including one on an alley-oop slam from McIntyre. Meanwhile, Buckner closed the run with a pair of buckets and two free throws as Clemson took control 68-54 with 6:36 left.
Wake Forest shot 61.5 percent in the first half, but went through a horrid shooting drought in the second period. The ACC’s worst shooting team missed eight straight shots after closing to 55-54, going 7:10 without a basket.
Odom said he knew Clemson would make a run in the second half against his freshman-laden team.
“I was hoping we had grown to the point where we would be able to hold it off,” he said.
Robert O’Kelley had 19 of his 23 points in the first half for Wake Forest, but didn’t score over the final 16:33.
“Clemson pushed out on him and he got frustrated,” Odom said. “Robert, for all of his good points, has not learned to let others help him.”
O’Kelley, coming off a pair of poor outings, scored nine points in Wake Forest’s 17-4 run and 13 of his team’s first 26 points as the Demon Deacons grabbed a 11-point lead midway through the first half.
The freshman guard made his fifth straight long-range shot of the half, added a fastbreak layup and a free throw over the final 4:16 of the period as Wake Forest was in control of the opening 20 minutes.
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