Tigers Outlast Wake in OT

CLEMSON – In the very first game he ever started for Clemson almost exactly four years ago, Sam Perry got a standing ovation after he sparked the Tigers to major upset win over Maryland.

He said at the time that he hoped it wasn't "a one-time only thing."

It wasn't.

The senior, finally healthy for the first time in two years, was a determining factor and force in propelling the Tigers to the 80-75 overtime victory against Wake Forest Tuesday night at a half full Littlejohn Coliseum.

Perry had a monster dunk, rebounds that were absolutely critical and he even made free throws that helped secure Clemson's win in overtime. It's been a while, but the marvelous and gregarious Perry appears to be back.

"Sam Perry was one of the heroes tonight," Tigers coach Oliver Purnell said. "He was tremendous."

All of last season and for the first half of this season, Perry struggled with bad cartilage in his knees. He had one of the best vertical leaps in the league before the injuries and struggled just to run after them.

He had surgery yet again in November to repair some leftover damage. There were times he thought he'd never hear the roar of the crowd for him ever again.

"I was frustrated because I just wasn't healthy," he said. "I just felt like I wasn't helping the team and that I wasn't my old self."

But slowly and surely, he felt better and better, and it all came to a head against Wake Forest (12-6, 2-3 ACC).

In 13 minutes of play, Perry was 4-for-4 from the field, grabbed five rebounds, three of which were offensive, handed out an assist and had two steals. He was even 2-of-3 from the free throw line, with both of his makes coming with 15.8 seconds left in overtime in a three-point game.

"I think he's been holding out on us," said Clemson's K.C. Rivers, who had a monster night of his own. "It was great to see him out there."

Rivers, too, was a deciding factor in the win for the Tigers (15-4, 3-2 ACC). The junior scored a team-high 19 points on 7-of-15 shooting and tied teammate Trevor Booker with 11 rebounds. He also had a game-high five steals.

It was also Rivers that hit two game-clinching free throws with 7.1 seconds left in overtime.

In all, Clemson made 5-of-6 free throws in overtime after going an woeful 2-of-10 from the stripe during regulation.

"Knocking down some free throws was very important," Tigers head coach Oliver Purnell said. "I think that'll do wonders for our confidence. ...

"They just need to slow down and believe in themselves and stop reading and believing what is said. It's obviously mental. Hopefully this will propel us into better shooting the rest of the year."

Rivers said the pressure of the moment never got to him or his teammates.

"This is the fun part of playing basketball," he said. "The more time we play the more fun we have. Why let it end at 40 minutes? Why not let it end at 45?"

Playing in overtime is something Clemson is use to. In four conference home games, the Tigers have played extra minutes in three of them.

"Just another walk in the park," Purnell said. However, on this night, each team had its opportunity in the final seconds of regulation to prevent that from happening.

Booker missed a long shot from the wing with five seconds left, which allowed the Demon Deacons one more chance at victory as they raced down the court on a 3-on-1 fast break.

But they mishandled the ball near the goal and they couldn't get a shot off before the buzzer sounded.

Once in overtime, Clemson's defensive pressure wore down the Demon Deacons, who were coming in off of a game Sunday night. Point guard Ishmael Smith led Wake Forest with 19 points, seven assists and eight turnovers, but even he seemed gassed by the end.

"When you have one day to get ready, it's tough," Demon Deacons coach Dino Gaudio said. "It's a smart move on Oliver's part to keep the pressure on."

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