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January 28, 2012

Buckling down





CLEMSON, S.C. -- When you muster just four points over the first nine minutes of a game, it certainly helps when the opposition only produces 12 points.

That explains why Clemson's task didn't seem all that daunting even after the Tigers missed 14 of their first 15 shots.

Andre Young ended the drought by sinking a 3-pointer with 10:27 left, and the scoreboard read: Wake Forest 12, Clemson 7.

The key to it all is defense, which made things quite manageable when the Tigers finally found their stroke.

"Offense is going to eventually come one way or another, as long as you keep getting stops on defense," said Devin Booker.

Clemson coasted to an easy victory after the shaky start, winning 71-60 to improve to 11-9 overall and 3-3 in the ACC. After facing the 12-4 deficit, the Tigers outscored the Deacons 67-48.

Brad Brownell, who notched his 200th career win, got solid contributions from his veterans Saturday afternoon at Littlejohn Coliseum. Young stayed hot, scoring a team-high 19 points after his career-high 29 a week earlier. Booker scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds, keeping his cool after missing some easy shots early. Tanner Smith scored 13, and Bryan Narcisse had 11 in his sixth start of the season.

"We need balance to play well," Brownell said.

This team also needs solid defense, and that's why the coach was angry during a couple of early timeouts. The Tigers were missing shots left and right, but that didn't irk Brownell nearly as much as the inability to generate stops on the defensive end.

This team hadn't played in a week, so you'd think they'd have been energetic and focused after the break. But Brownell didn't like the look in his players' eyes before the start of this one.

"They didn't look ready for a competitive fight," he said.

The Tigers got the message after some stern words from Brownell in the first few minutes. They started coming up with stops, and transition opportunities off turnovers helped build their confidence on the offensive end. They scored on 15 of their last 17 possessions of the first half and ended up with 10 fast-break points.

Clemson scored 19 points off 15 Wake Forest turnovers. That was the killer from the vantage point of Deacons coach Jeff Bzdelik. whose team dropped to 11-10 and 2-5.

"We didn't take advantage of the lead we had in the first half," Bzdelik said. "We had some opportunities, open shots and free throws you just have to make. Therein lies the story of the game in my mind."

Young said the Tigers had to reinforce their defense-first identity after a poor showing in a loss at Miami on Jan. 18. It's a an identity they hope to retain for road games against Virginia and Virginia Tech.

"Defense kept us in this game," Young said.

*** To chat with other Clemson fans about this article please visit The West Zone message board.


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