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Wake Forest downs Clemson in battle of unbeatens

Jan 18, 2009 - 4:48 AM CLEMSON, South Carolina (Ticker) -- Jeff Teague and Wake Forest continued a season for the ages.

Teague scored 24 points as third-ranked Wake Forest topped No. 9 Clemson, 78-68, in Saturday's showdown of undefeated Atlantic Coast Conference teams.

James Johnson had 19 points, eight rebounds and three blocks for the Demon Deacons (16-0, 3-0 ACC), who became the last unbeaten team in the nation with top-ranked Pittsburgh's loss at No. 20 Louisville on Saturday.

With Pittsburgh's loss and its win, Wake Forest will probably move up to the top spot in the USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll on Monday.

Wake Forest also secured the best start in school history with the win, surpassing the mark from 1926-27.

"I thought that we showed a lot of heart today," Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio said. "When Clemson cut the lead to one, it was pretty loud in here. But our team showed resiliency. It was a terrific win today."

The Demon Deacons took control in the second half, building a 43-29 advantage with an early burst out of halftime. However, the Tigers (16-1, 2-1) battled back, closing within 61-60 on two free throws by Trevor Booker with 4:54 to play.

"They did it with pressure," Gaudio said. "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 talked a lot about the 'fourth quarter' (last eight minutes) being critical. We needed to find a way to get it done."

Freshman Al-Farouq Aminu came back with a dunk off a broken press and Johnson scored the next six points as Wake Forest rebuilt its advantage to 69-60 with 2:45 remaining.

Booker could only split a pair of free throws on Clemson's next possession and Chas McFarland had a tip shot to give Wake Forest a 71-61 advantage with 2:17 left.

Teague then scored five of the game's next seven points, including three on free throws.

The sophomore guard ended up 13-of-18 from the stripe en route at least 24 points for the fourth straight game, averaging 29.3 points over that span. Teague also handed out five assists and grabbed two steals.

"All year he's been there for us," Gaudio said. "We've got a lion leading us. He puts tremendous pressure on the defense because he can get to the rim and he can shoot the three. He can also get to the line and that's good for us."

K.C. Rivers and Terrence Oglesby scored 15 points each for Clemson, which lost to Wake Forest for 18th time in the last 21 meetings.

"I think we are a good team, but we just didn't play great against a good team," Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. "If you don't play well, then you are going to have a tough time winning in this conference."

The Tigers struggled shooting, going 34 percent (26-of-77) from the field and 11-of-20 on free throws.

"Their size definitely bothered us, and Teague is a great player who made some big plays down the stretch," Purnell said. "We just didn't play well in the last six minutes."

The contest did go back-and-forth for most of the opening 20 minutes until the Demon Deacons closed the half with an 8-2 run.

Rivers hit one of his two first-half 3-pointers to give the Tigers a 25-24 edge with 5:38 remaining. Teague came back with two free throws and, after a pair of foul shots from Jerai Grant, Johnson hit a jumper and dunked to give the Demon Deacons a lead they would never lose at 30-27 with 4:01 to play.

Aminu added a jumper 30 seconds later before both teams went a combined 0-of-9 from the field over the closing 3 1/2 minutes before intermission.

"We missed easy shots and didn't react well on defense," Purnell said of the final six minutes of the opening half. "They weren't necessarily explosive today and we should have taken advantage of that. A game can be won going into and coming out of the half and we didn't play well in either of those situations."

Despite missing its final three shots of the first half, Wake Forest came out of the break on a tear, with Teague hitting a 3-pointer and McFarland converting a layup in transition.

Demontez Stitt connected on a layup for Clemson, but Aminu and Johnson both notched baskets. L.D. Williams then sank two free throws for Wake Forest, which took a 43-29 lead with 17:12 remaining following a 19-4 run that spanned the break.

Clemson closed within a point behind a 16-3 run over 4:12, with Stitt scoring six points and Oglesby hitting two 3-pointers.

The last undefeated team in the nation two years ago when they began 17-0, the Tigers will try to bounce back in Wednesday's tough matchup at North Carolina. Clemson has never won at Chapel Hill, going 0-53.

"We will get together and talk this week, watch some tape and let them talk about the game and just get ready to play," Purnell said.