WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The 20th-ranked Clemson Tigers needed to protect a pair of foul-plagued defenders from the whistles, and had to cool down the Wake Forest shooters who kept their team in the game.
Coach Brad Brownell's little-used zone defense accomplished both things.
Gabe DeVoe scored 24 points and Clemson beat Wake Forest 75-67 on Saturday.
"They couldn't figure it out," DeVoe said of the reaction to the zone by the Demon Deacons — who went 5 minutes between field goals down the stretch.
Marcquise Reed added 10 of his 22 in the final six minutes to help the Tigers (19-4, 8-3) win their third straight and claim sole possession of second place in the league standings, a half-game ahead of No. 4 Duke.
DeVoe described his teammates as "super-confident" because "we've got a lot of older guys who have been in this situation before, and that helps us out a lot. Down the stretch, just staying calm under pressure, making shots on the offensive end and getting stops on the defensive end."
Bryant Crawford scored 16 points and Keyshawn Woods added 13 for the Demon Deacons (9-14, 2-9), who ultimately lost control of a tight game that had 20 lead changes and 12 ties.
"I guess we weren't mentally dialed in down the stretch," Woods said. "The zone messed us up."
Reed put the Tigers ahead to stay with a free throw with 3:39 to play, and his jumper with about 90 seconds left put Clemson up 69-65 — the first time since early in the second half that the margin was greater than one possession either way.
Doral Moore added 13 rebounds for the Demon Deacons. Shelton Mitchell finished with 10 points for the Tigers.
Clemson: The Tigers did enough to sidestep a letdown that could have come following their victory over No. 19 North Carolina five nights earlier. The result was a leg up on the rest of the conference in the race for second in the ACC behind No. 2 Virginia, which has at least a three-game lead on everyone else.
Wake Forest: This one will go on the lengthy list of ones that got away for the Demon Deacons — who also struggled down the stretch in losses to Tennessee, North Carolina and N.C. State. They missed nine of their final 10 shots in this one — including all five 3s they took in that stretch — after making 11 of their first 24 attempts of the second half.
DeVoe, a North Carolina native, was 8 of 11 from the field and made five 3-pointers for the third consecutive game. He finished one point shy of the career high he set a week earlier against Georgia Tech. "I feel like every shot I take is going in, and fortunately, they've been going down lately," he said.
Reed picked up his fourth foul with 7:08 to play, necessitating Brownell's switch to the zone, and forward Elijah Thomas also finished with four fouls for the Tigers. Reed and Thomas shared the team lead with six defensive rebounds apiece. "Obviously, some of that (zone defense) was to protect our players," Brownell said.
The Demon Deacons fell to 0-6 this season against Top 25 opponents. This was just the second time they've finished within single digits of a ranked team. North Carolina beat them 73-69 in January.
Clemson: Plays host to Pittsburgh on Thursday night.
Wake Forest: Visits Miami on Wednesday night.
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