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January 17, 2009

Wake endures to beat Clemson

It was a physical battle between two good, undefeated teams, but Wake Forest's execution was too much for a Clemson team who could not find the basket, as Wake came away 78-68 victors in Clemson's Littlejohn Coliseum.

The first half was a close physical battle, with both teams exchanging blows and leads. Clemson jumped out early, leading 7-5 at the first media timeout, but Wake answered to take a three point lead with 11 minutes left. Coach Gaudio decided to give four starters a rest at that point, and Clemson took advantage, grabbing a four point lead. Wake made their near-patented run in the final seven minutes of the half, thanks to some solid play from James Johnson and Jeff Teague, to go into the locker room up 32-27.

Wake tried to turn things into a blowout in the second half, quickly expanding the lead to 14. Wake maintained that double digit lead until just inside the 10 minute mark when Clemson made a run. After a six point burst led by Demontrez Stitt and back-to-back three pointers from sharpshooter Terrence Oglesby the lead shrunk dramatically. All of a sudden, with 4:54 left, Wake only led by one, 61-60.

When Clemson cut the lead to one, it was pretty loud in here. But our team showed resiliency," said head coach Dino Gaudio. "They did it with pressure. Clemson plays hard for 40 minutes. They tip balls and go after everything. We knew they would make runs, but our plan was to play through it. I told them not to panic, just play through it. We needed to find a way to get it done."

In previous seasons, including last year's game here at Clemson, Wake may have folded under such pressure. The crowd was at its loudest of the afternoon and Clemson was riding high. Al-Farouq Aminu answered with a huge dunk, and James Johnson scored six straight points, bringing the lead back to nine. Clemson didn't have another run in them, and Wake hung on for the victory.

The Demon Deacons couldn't come up with another near-perfect performance like they did in their last two outings against North Carolina and Boston College, but they had enough to get the job done against the number 10 team in the country.

Despite not shooting as well as he has recently, Jeff Teague still contributed 24 points and five assists. James Johnson had a great performance; scoring 19, grabbing 8 rebounds, and making 3 blocks and 3 steals. Al-Farouq Aminu also played a very solid all-around game, blocking four shots and having a double-double with 10 rebounds and 12 points.

Although Clemson's constant full-court press only caused a couple turnovers, Wake still turned the ball over 19 times in the game. Gaudio had harped on turnovers before the game, but was happy to survive with the 10 point victory.

The Demon Deacons may not have played a flawless game, but they played hard, tough, basketball, and played solid defense to hold Clemson to only 34% shooting from the field. The victory sets the all-time record for consecutive wins to start the season at Wake Forest, as Wake is now 16-0 and 3-0 in the ACC. Wake will once again have to regroup quickly to prepare for a visit from Virginia Tech on Wednesday night.

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