When Wake Forest and Clemson met in January, both were undefeated and intent on challenging for the ACC regular-season title. Now, neither is a factor in that race.
The No. 10 Demon Deacons look to defeat the 18th-ranked Tigers for the 17th straight time at home Sunday, as both teams strive for momentum - as well as any possible seeding advantage - entering the postseason tournaments.
Wake Forest (23-5, 10-5) was 15-0 when it visited 16-0 Clemson (23-6, 9-6) on Jan. 17. The Demon Deacons handed the Tigers their first loss of the season, 78-68, to become the only remaining undefeated team in Division I.
Both teams have since gone through rough patches, making this rematch irrelevant to the conference title - decided earlier Sunday between Duke and North Carolina. Still, this contest is far from meaningless.
The Demon Deacons - winners of three straight and five of six - could capture the second seed in the ACC tournament with a win and a Duke loss. Clemson, meanwhile, needs a win Sunday and a loss by Florida State to Virginia Tech to finish in the league’s top four and guarantee itself a first-round bye.
Wake Forest shot only 39.7 percent against Maryland on Tuesday, but managed to beat Maryland 65-63. The Demon Deacons used their size advantage to outrebound the Terps 50-32 and block 10 shots.
Jeff Teague scored 17 points and Al-Farouq Aminu had 16 points and 14 rebounds to lead Wake.
“The resiliency of our team is unbelievable,” said junior guard Ishmael Smith, averaging 12.2 points - more than double his 5.8 season average - in the last six games. “We made some big shots down the stretch and got the win.”
Wake Forest is 13-1 at home this season, with the only loss coming by seven points against Virginia Tech on Jan. 21. The Demon Deacons have also won 16 straight at home against Clemson since an 89-75 loss in 1990.
Clemson avoided a third straight loss Tuesday, beating Virginia 75-57 at home after breaking open a close game. The Tigers outscored the Cavaliers 43-26 in the second half, shooting 53.6 percent after the break when they started to go inside for easier shots. Trevor Booker had 13 points and 15 rebounds while Terrence Oglesby scored a game-high 18 points.
“You do not want to lose three games in a row,” coach Oliver Purnell said. “It can play with your mind. I believe we are resilient enough, but I didn’t want to go there. It was another huge ACC game that we needed to win.”
Purnell’s team is 1-3 against ranked opponents this season, with the only victory coming at home against then-No. 4 Duke on Feb. 4. Booker, Clemson’s leading scorer at 15.1 points per game, was held below 10 in all of those losses.
Clemson has won just three of the last 18 overall meetings with the Demon Deacons since the 1998-99 season. All three victories have come in overtime.