- Associated Press - Saturday, December 31, 2016

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) - Clemson kept hanging around and staying within arm’s reach of Wake Forest, even as Tigers coach Brad Brownell said the game-long deficit “felt like it was worse than it was.”

Turns out, the Tigers had one good run in them after struggling to put one together most of Saturday.

Marcquise Reed scored 21 points and Clemson ended the game on a 15-0 run, erasing a 10-point deficit in the final 5 minutes to beat Wake Forest 73-68 in their Atlantic Coast Conference opener.

“We were fortunate because we didn’t play the way you should play to win a game like this for 32, 34 minutes,” Brownell said.

And yet, when the once sure-footed Demon Deacons began to stumble, the Tigers (11-2, 1-0) pounced.



Donte Grantham added 11 points, including the go-ahead three-point play with 1:15 left after a turnover. That gave Clemson its first lead all day after trailing 36-31 at half and by 13 with 7 minutes left.

“We have grit,” said Grantham, who finished with 10 rebounds. “In the final stretch we knew we were a good team and we knew we had a run still left in us. We just happened to have the last run in the game.”

Clemson shot 50 percent and made 6 of 10 3-pointers after halftime, winning at Wake Forest’s Joel Coliseum for only the fourth time since the facility opened in 1989.

John Collins scored 20 points for the Demon Deacons (9-5, 0-2), who looked on their way to a win Danny Manning’s program needed if it hopes to make a climb in the league standings. But after taking a 68-58 lead on Mitchell Wilbekin’s drive with 4:51 left, Wake Forest missed its last nine shots to watch this one gradually slip away.

“There were some momentum-swinging plays in that second half that gave them some life, gave them some juice, gave them some energy,” Manning said.

“All games that you lose are a hard pill to swallow and upsetting and all that. But we were in command of this game for almost 36 minutes and we weren’t able to close it out.”

BIG PICTURE

Clemson: The Tigers came in with eight straight wins, matching their longest streak under their seventh-year coach. They sure found a creative way to extend that run in the kind of game that the Tigers can’t afford to squander if they want to make it back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since Brownell’s debut season in 2010-11, the last of four straight NCAA trips.

And while players might not have been specifically focused on that big-picture goal Saturday, they knew they couldn’t bobble away a shot at a road win against a team with one winning record in the past six seasons.

“We said, ‘We cannot lose this game, we have to walk away with a victory,’” Reed said. “And we did all we can to come out on top.”

Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons are trying to make a climb from a 2-16 ACC mark last year. Instead, they turned in a finish that was reminiscent of last year’s struggles, from bad turnovers to questionable shots.

“It’s been a pattern here for us at Wake Forest for the past two years,” said Keyshawn Woods, who scored 16 points. “The coaching staff can’t do nothing about it, the Xs and Os is fine. It’s us as a team that’s going to have to fix this problem if we want to be a contender in the ACC.”

COLLINS’ WORK

Collins made 9 of 13 shots inside and got Clemson frontcourters Sidy Djitte and Elijah Thomas in foul trouble, but he got just one shot in the last 8:49 of this one.

UP NEXT

Clemson: The Tigers return home to host No. 9 North Carolina on Tuesday night.

Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons host Boston College on Tuesday night.

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Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

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More AP college basketball: https://collegebasketball.ap.org

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