CLEMSON — Clemson has played basketball in Littlejohn Coliseum for 45 years. The Tigers have never produced a defensive performance in the building like the one they authored Tuesday in a 60-44 victory over Wake Forest.
Clemson (10-6, 2-2 ACC) is an original member of the ACC and it has held only one conference opponent — Wake in 1964, four years before Littlejohn was constructed — to a lower field-goal percentage than the 24.6 percent mark the Demon Deacons (9-7, 2-2) posted Tuesday. The win marked the first time in program history Clemson has held back-to-back ACC opponents to 45 or fewer points.
That Clemson was able to hold Wake to a record-low shooting night was in large part because K.J. McDaniels played high above the rim. The sophomore wing blocked a career-best seven shots and had four dunks en route to 14 points. He also grabbed nine rebounds.
Time after time, McDaniels soared in from the weak-side to swat away a Wake Forest shot. He ranks second in the ACC in blocked shots (36), and has only 10 fewer blocked shots than Boston College has as a team. And it’s not as if McDaniels is a 7-foot-plus center, he’s a 6-6 wing.
“It’s just instincts,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “It’s nothing we coach. We take no credit for that. It’s just him. It’s just how he’s played his whole life. It’s what he does. He surprises people.”
He surprised a Wake Forest team that began to have to account for McDaniels’ weak-side presence, rushing shots when the sophomore was not altering them.
Said Wake coach Jeff Bzdelik: “Psychologically, it plays a part, it really does.”
McDaniels indicated he could be averaging more than 2.25 blocks per game.
“Sometimes I believe I haven’t gone for as many shots as I should, coming in as the third big on the team, I have to get in there and bang, too,” McDaniels said. “The shot blocking, it just comes from timing and knowing where to be at the right time. I was in the right place at the right time.”
McDaniels was often in the right place at the right time Tuesday, but so were his teammates, who limited Wake star C.J. Harris to just eight points and held him scoreless in the second half.
Wake went nine minutes without scoring a field goal in the first half and finished with three assists and 11 turnovers.
“We have done a good job on the defensive end most games,” Brownell said. “It’s the personality of our team, it’s the personality I want in our program — toughness and attention to detail and not being happy when teams score. We pay a lot of attention to that. We sub to take guys out when they make mistakes. We recruit to that. Our players know that is where our bread is buttered.”
Clemson’s offense also improved for the second straight game. Clemson shot 43 percent from 3, boosted by 3s from freshman Jordan Roper, who returned from a sprained ankle. Adonis Filer scored 13 points and Devin Booker added 12 points and eight rebounds. Milton Jennings was in foul trouble and was limited to five points.