Deacons suffer a familiar fate in late loss to Clemson

The Deacons let another one slip away Saturday by allowing Clemson to score the games final 15 points in a 73-68 loss to the Tigers at Joel Coliseum

Jeremy Brevard—USA Today Sports
Dec 31

WINSTON-SALEM — This year’s Wake Forest basketball team is arguably the most talented group of Deacons since Dino Gaudio’s final season of 2009-10. And yet, until it figures out a way to solve a familiar old problem — specifically, an inability to close out and win close games — coach Danny Manning’s squad will have a hard time moving up in the ACC standings. Let alone getting back to the NCAA tournament. The Deacons let another one slip away Saturday by allowing Clemson to score the game’s final 15 points in a 73-68 loss to the Tigers at Joel Coliseum. It was a heart-wrenching defeat for a team desperately struggling to make positive strides, made all the more painful by the fact that it followed an all-too-familiar script. “It’s the same thing that happened last year with us,” redshirt sophomore guard Keyshawn Woods said afterward. “We’d be up and lose it at the end because we can’t be disciplined enough. So it’s been a pattern since I’ve been here at Wake Forest.” The Deacons (9-5, 0-2 ACC) lost their conference opener at Florida State on Wednesday by allowing a 22-6 Seminole run over the final 7½ minutes to turn a tie game into a 16-point setback. Saturday, they led 64-51 with 6:57 remaining and still held a double-digit advantage as last as the five-minute mark before the bottom dropped out. Wake went 0 for 8 from the floor, missed its only free throw attempt and committed two costly turnovers over its final 10 possessions. Clemson, meanwhile, got 10 points down the stretch from Robert Morris transfer Marcquise Reed to roar from behind the steal the victory. The Tigers (11-2, 1-0) didn’t take their first lead until Donte Grantham’s three-point play with 1:15 left. “All games that you lose are a hard pill to swallow, but we were in command of this game for almost 36 minutes and we weren’t able to close it out,” Manning said. “You can chalk it up to whatever you want to, we just didn’t get it done.” One of Wake’s biggest problems down the stretch was its inability to get the ball inside to big man John Collins. The sophomore center was dominant for a prolonged stretch during the first half, not only scoring from close range virtually every time he touched the ball on the low post, but also getting both Clemson bigs — Sidy Djitte and Elijah Thomas — into foul trouble. Collins finished with 20 points on 9 of 13 shooting. But he was mysteriously missing from the Deacons’ offense when they needed him most, taking only one shot over the game’s final 8:49. Some of the credit for that drought goes to the Tigers’ defense for putting more pressure on Wake’s guards and denying him the ball. But as Woods admitted afterward, he and his teammates were equally as complicit in the failure to keep feeding their best player. “We started taking jump shots instead of trying our best to get ourselves in the right position to get (Collins) the ball our get fouled and get to the free throw line,” Woods said. “In the stretch, we got away from playing inside-out. (Collins) scored three, four times in a row, then we kind of just went downhill.” The question now is what Wake will do to keep that downhill roll from turning into an all-too-familiar snowball toward the bottom of the ACC standings. Woods said that perhaps its time for a players-only team meeting. Manning said he answer to his team’s recurring late-game problems can only be found on the practice floor. “Coach has always stressed to us that it starts at practice and that’s something we’re going to have to do,” Collins said. “We’re going to have to come out and treat everything like it’s a late-game situation because that’s obviously something we’re struggling with. “I know this is a really tough one, it stings a lot. But we have to learn from it, mature and develop as a team and it will help us move forward.”