Wake win provides confidence boost

Clemson's "ability" to lose close games this season has bordered on the surreal.

The Tigers have lost five Atlantic Coast Conference games by four points or less, including three by a single basket.

Consider: Clemson has outscored its ACC opponents by 33 total points, yet the Tigers have only a 4-6 league mark to show for their efforts, leading many to believe they're deserving of a better fate.

"We could easily have five more wins right now," senior guard Andre Young said. "But we know those are games we can't get back. We want to finish the season strong. It's not too late."

Perhaps not too late, but it's getting close. The Tigers have six ACC games remaining and would have to win four of them to finish .500 or better in league for a school-record fifth straight year. That means they'll have to steal at least one victory on the road.

Coach Brad Brownell is hoping that his team's 78-58 win at Wake Forest on Saturday was a confidence-builder that could jump-start a season-ending flourish.

"I'm really proud of my guys," Brownell said. "We had a couple of tough weeks here where we've lost games in the last possessions. This time of the year, it gets hard to keep wanting to grind."

MONDAY NOTES: Clemson finally enjoyed that elusive game in which it clicked on all cylinders offensively in its 78-58 win over Wake Forest on Saturday. The Tigers shot a season-high 58 percent from the field and led by at least 17 points for the final 12 minutes of the game.

"We had one of those nights where we shot it really well, which obviously makes everything a lot easier," Clemson coach Brad Brownell said.

Senior guard Tanner Smith led the way, connecting on all six of his first-half shots to set the Tigers' tone for the night. He finished with 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting, but was far from the only Clemson player feeling the groove -- for the first time this season, six different Tigers connected on 3-pointers.

* Junior F Milton Jennings apparently is back on track academically. Jennings, who was suspended indefinitely on Jan. 30, returned to action against Maryland on Feb. 7 and was back in the starting lineup for the Wake Forest game on Feb. 11.

His basketball acumen didn't suffer during his two-game suspension -- the 6-foot-9 junior has averaged 14.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in the last two games and will be a key figure for the Tigers' heading down the season's homestretch.

* Junior F Devin Booker also is hitting a late-season stride. He had 9 points and 7 rebounds in Clemson's win at Wake Forest on Feb. 11, but he was averaging 12.0 points and 7.6 rebounds over the last eight games at that point.

"We need for him to play with great spirit and energy all the time," coach Brad Brownell said. "We're trying to make sure he realizes how much guys feed off of him."

Booker has four double-doubles this season, including three in his last eight games, and has 25 blocked shots -- six more than he had combined over his first two seasons.

BY THE NUMBERS: 18 -- Clemson lost 18 consecutive games at Wake Forest before snapping the 22-year losing streak with a 78-58 win over the Demon Deacons on Feb. 11. It was the Tigers' first win in Winston-Salem, N.C., since February of 1990.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's just like the free throws the last game. People remember that, but there are 50 plays that we go back and show our guys that can impact the game." -- Clemson coach Brad Brownell on senior G Andre Young missing two free throws with 10 seconds left in a two-point loss to Maryland on Feb. 7.

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