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Updated: Saturday, March 1, 2003 9:56 PM EST
NCAA BASKETBALL RECAP
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(12) Wake Forest 80, Clemson 68
CLEMSON TIGERS
Clemson Tigers
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WAKE FOREST DEMON DEACONS
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
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WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina (Ticker) -- With a potentially historic week ahead, Wake Forest took care of business Saturday.

Josh Howard scored 29 points and freshman Justin Gray added 16, including an 11-of-11 effort from the free-throw line, as the 12th-ranked Demon Deacons inched closer to the Atlantic Coast Conference title with an 80-68 triumph over Clemson.

Howard made 10-of-16 shots and reached double figures for the 20th consecutive game. He was 6-of-10 from 3-point range and joined Duke's Shane Battier as the only players in ACC history with 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 200 assists, 100 blocked shots and 100 3-point field goals.

"The basket in the first half looked like a big old bucket," Howard said. "I've been working really hard on my shot and it is starting to pay off."

Gray keyed a big effort from the line for Wake Forest, which was 33-of-49 from the stripe. Clemson attempted just 20 free throws, making 11.

Wake Forest (21-4, 11-3 ACC), which never trailed in the game, can clinch the conference title outright with wins against North Carolina and at North Carolina State. The Demon Deacons have not won the ACC title outright since 1962 - the year of the team's only Final Four appearance.

On Saturday, Wake Forest never trailed and defeated Clemson (15-10, 5-9) for the ninth time in 10 meetings. The Demon Deacons have won nine of their last 10 league matchups - their best single-season conference stretch in the ACC since that 1961-62 season.

Wake Forest also ran its winning streak at Lawrence Joel Coliseum to 15 games.

"We told the team about a week ago 'You've got three weeks to work and the rest of your life to remember," Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser said. "And for the rest of your life, you can remember that you were a part of group of guys that not much was expected of, and when you get into the real world and leave the hallowed halls of Wake Forest, no one will ever be able to tell you you can't do something.'"

Edward Scott led the Tigers with 25 points on 10-of-29 shooting.

"Wake Forest has had a great season and they are a great team," Clemson coach Larry Shyatt said. "Skip Prosser has done a tremendous job of blending the greatness of a star like Josh Howard with a core of young players."

Howard got the Demon Deacons going early and they never were headed.

Howard tipped in his own miss to open the scoring and Taron Downey buried a 3-pointer. After Chey Christie made a jumper for Clemson, Howard buried another 3-pointer.

A free throw by the Tigers' Olu Babalola sliced Clemson's deficit to 8-3 but Howard hit 3-pointers just under two minutes apart for an 11-point cushion. Vytas Danelius capped the run with two free throws that left Wake Forest ahead, 16-3, with 13 minutes to go in the half.

Clemson attempted to rally and got within 26-20 following a dunk by Christie with 3:40 remaining, but Howard answered with a 3-pointer and tip-in to push the lead back to 11.

The Demon Deacons led 37-25 at the half, holding a 26-14 rebounding edge through 20 minutes.

"Josh has really separated himself from the rest," Shyatt said. "He has put this team on his back and risen to the occasion."

Clemson began chipping away early in the second half and drew within 44-42 following a 3-pointer by Scott with 14:48 left. But Howard had a free throw 25 seconds later and sank a 3-pointer with 13:26 to go to push the Demon Deacons' edge to 48-42.

The Tigers did not fold as Tomas Nagys had a free throw and Scott a layup to slice their deficit to 48-45. But with a chance to draw closer, Clemson got sloppy and sent Wake Forest to the line repeatedly. Danelius had a free throw, Gray and Downey hit two apiece and Danelius made it 55-45 on a dunk with 9:06 left.

Freshman Trent Strickland buried a 3-pointer and Gray sank two more free throws for a 60-45 edge with 7:58 remaining.

Gray, who grabbed a career-high seven rebounds, has made 23 straight free throws.

"They did a great job of eliminating our open looks," Shyatt said. "That was a very good game and a very hard fought game by Clemson. We just didn't quite make our shots tonight."


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