Thomas leads Clemson past Wake Forest 64-37
Thomas, the foul prone, 6-foot-9 senior, had 23 points, 10 rebounds and a career-best seven blocks to lead the Tigers to a 64-37 win over Wake Forest on Sunday.
It was Clemson’s first time with consecutive wins since late December. Thomas was dominant on both ends of the floor, making 10 of 11 shots for his sixth double-double of the season and 17th of his career. Thomas is also known for picking up early fouls that limit his court time and hamper Clemson’s ability to matchup with the Atlantic Coast Conference’s best teams.
Thomas has fouled out twice this season and missed many first-half minutes because of quick, silly fouls.
“Yeah, he almost starts looking to the bench sometimes,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said when Thomas hears the referee’s whistle.
There were no worries in this one as Thomas was active and aggressive in shutting down the Demon Deacons (8-13, 1-8 ACC), who have lost five in a row this season and six straight to Clemson.
The Tigers were ranked to start the season, coming off a trip to the NCAA Tournament’s round of 16 last March. Expectations were even bigger for a team that returned four senior starters including Thomas. Instead, the Tigers (13-8, 3-5) bumped along the early, yet difficult stretch of league play, losing five of their first six.
Things have turned some this week, the Wake win coming after Tuesday night’s decisive 82-69 victory over Pittsburgh.
“We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there,” Thomas said.
Things were over early in this one.
The Tigers were up 16-3 just seven minutes while the Demon Deacons made just one of their first eight shots and committed five turnovers. Wake Forest had no answer for Thomas underneath, who made four of five shots — all from very close to the basket — with six rebounds, three blocks and a steal the first 20 minutes.
Clemson was dominant everywhere in the opening half, except on the scoreboard. The Tigers made just three of their final nine attempts and were up just 30-16 heading into the locker room. That changed after the break as the Tigers opened with a 15-2 run that put them up by 25 points and left them cruising to their sixth straight victory over Wake Forest.
Chaundee Brown had 12 points to lead the Demon Deacons, who fell to 1-8 in the ACC for the third time in four seasons.
Thomas was Clemson’s only double-digit scorer. Leading scorer Marcquise Reed, averaging 19.6 points coming in, finished with nine points on 4-of-10 shooting.
Brownell said his team has defended well much of the season, but must make more shots. Despite the big win, Clemson was 6 of 18 on 3-pointers. “To beat the elite teams in our league, we’re probably going to have to make a couple more of those,” he said.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons struggled with their offense. Leading scorer Brandon Childress, averaging 16 points a game, was held scoreless going 0-of-11 from the field. The team shot 23.7 percent for the game.
Clemson: The Tigers have had their issues scoring points when needed and that was evident again, even in a sizeable win. Other than Thomas, Clemson starters combined to shoot just 11 of 31, a performance that won’t get things done long term.
The loudest cheer of the game came when senior reserve Lyles Davis, who played only three minutes this season, entered down the stretch and hit a long, 3-pointer to send the arena into bedlam. The 5-foot-11 guard was recently placed on scholarship. “That was the shot of the game, shot of the year,” Thomas said with a smile.
Wake Forest freshman Sharone Wright Jr. is the son of ex-Clemson all-ACC player Sharone Wright from the early 1990s who has spent much time inside Littlejohn Coliseum. His first college game, though, did not go the way he hoped. The younger Wright missed his eight attempts and left with zero points. “I’m sure he had some emotions flowing through,” Deacons coach Danny Manning said.
Wake Forest returns home to play Pitt on Tuesday night.
Clemson goes to Georgia Tech on Wednesday night.