Well that team was different than any Wake team we've seen this year, but thankfully it was in the best way possible, as Wake Forest battled hard and dominated the glass to top Virginia Tech, thanks to a pair of ice cold threes from Deac leader C.J. Harris. It was a game that was led nearly wire to wire by the Deacs, who were up by as many as 13 early before Tech (notably Erick Green and Jerrell Eddie) began to heat up.
The Deacs led by 8 at the half (would've been 10 if a ridiculous in many ways tip dunk had gone down for Wake) and the lead hovered around 6 or so for much of the rest of the game before Tech took their first and only 1 point lead late on a three from Eddie. It was then that C.J. Harris took over, hitting both of his next attempts from beyond the arc, including what would be the game-winning three with approximately 11 seconds remaining. It got hairy late, but Wake led virtually wire-to-wire against a very good Tech squad, and it was a quintessential team effort.
Read more about this game of pleasant surprises after the jump...-Offensively, it wasn't exactly pretty. Wake shot 38.5% (20-52) overall, 44.4% (8-18) from 3, but a very strong 76.9% (10-13) from the free throw line. The good news despite the relatively anemic offense is that it was a balanced effort, and multiple guys had HUGE shots. It was not a one man band on either end of the ball, so despite bad percentages, it was a fairly strong showing by the Deacs in the context of the game. There were MANY shots from more than one player that are going to be buckets 95% of the time, too. The shot selection was generally very good. Wake turned the ball over 15 times (all but four of those in the second half) which helped to keep Tech in it, but also had 13 assists on the day.
-Defensively, the Deacs had a very good day as well. Tech shot 39.7% (23-58) overall, 27.3% (6-22) from three, and went 50% from the line on only 6 attempts. Wake's defense inside was particularly stifling, even when Tech was able to break down the also highly effective 2-3 zone defense. Particularly surprising is the fact that Wake held highly heralded Tech freshman Dorian Finney-Smith scoreless, and he averages the better part of 10 points per game so far. The trio of Nikita Mescheriakov, Ty Walker (who started today and had a pretty huge game) and Carson Desrosiers gave VT fits inside. Wake as a team forced 10 turnovers on 3 steals, 6 blocks (4 of which came from Carson) and a travel call largely created by some hustle by Ty Walker.
-Wake absolutely dominated the glass. Yes, you read that correctly. Do not adjust your monitors. Depending on where you get your stats, Wake bested the Hokies on the glass by either 7 or 11, and either way, this is a Tech squad that out-rebounded their opponents by a +5 average coming in. And honestly, the performance on the glass was even more of an improvement this game than the numbers would indicate. For large stretches of the game, it was an absolute rebounding clinic by Wake Forest as a whole. Clearly, Coach Bzdelik wasn't kidding when he said rebounding would be a point of emphasis in practice, and boy did it ever show. What a difference.
Now for some individual notes...
-I've gotta start with the hero of the day, C.J. Harris. If there was any doubt whose team it is this year, C.J. proved it between being so very conspicuous in his absence last game against Wofford, and cemented that with some absolute heroics today. C.J. had 13 points (3-8, 3-4, 4-4), 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and only two turnovers in 39 minutes. One of C.J.'s two turnovers was on an offensive foul, and while offensive fouls are never GOOD, it was on a play where C.J. was just trying to be aggressive going to the tin. C.J. was defended in blanket fashion by the Hokies for much of the game, but not only did this free up other scorers, at the end of the day, C.J. bested the Hokies no matter how much they tried to prevent it.
-Travis McKie had his first double-double of the year with 12 points (6-14, 0-1, 0-1), 15 rebounds, and also chipped in an assist and 3 turnovers in 35 minutes. Travis absolutely DID WORK inside, and I'm sad for him that his one three didn't drop, because it was a great look. McKie and Harris are definitely a one-two punch the likes of which is possibly unrivaled in the ACC.
-Ty Walker deserves some definite props in his first start of the year. Ty had modest contributions statistically with 4 points (1-4 including a missed dunk, 2-3 from the line; ESPN is off there, so I'm also gonna say that Wake WAS in fact +11 in rebounding, because Ty's basket was an and-1 on which he missed the FT), 2 rebounds, 2 assists, a block, a steal, and 2 turnovers (and one of those was really on Chase Fischer, but who's counting) in 24 minutes. More than even the stats though, Ty played some great defense and absolutely ate up space inside, which was key in Wake's rebounding edge.
-Nikita Mescheriakov did a bit of everything. In 28 minutes, the redshirt senior chipped in 9 points (2-6, 1-4, 4-6), 10 rebounds, an assist, a steal, a block, and an admittedly bad 4 turnovers. The thing that baffles me about Nikita is, he is an ABSOLUTE WIZARD at getting to the basket, dude has some incredible moves, he just can't finish for whatever reason. Absolutely baffling, but Nikita still deserves credit, especially for his contributions on the glass.
-Tony Chennault had a solid game. In 28 minutes, he had 7 points (3-8, 1-1 from 3, 0-0), 4 rebounds, an assist, a steal, and 2 turnovers. Tony had a couple of nice finishes on drives and an absolutely key clutch three from the corner. Tony's game was solid but not fantastic, but he didn't need to be fantastic with C.J. Harris taking over.
-Carson Desrosiers had a really strong 12 minutes off the bench. He had 5 points (2-5. 1-3, 0-0), one offensive rebound, and a very nice 3 assists and team high 4 blocks with only a single turnover. Carson can PASS, it's really nice. We've also seen Carson can be aggressive on the glass and efficient inside, so really he's an unpolished and perhaps inconsistent but incredibly talented finesse big man, and he really seems to impact every game he's in for the Deacs.
-Chase Fischer had a nice game in his own right off the bench. In 25 minutes, he had 8 points (3-7, 2-5, 0-0), an assist, and one turnover (though again, one of Ty's TO's was really on Chase). More important than his statistical production however, Chase played some killer defense, especially on the last possession with the Deacs up 3. Bless him, Chase takes some bad shots and sometimes needs to settle down, but he really has a beautiful shooting motion and plays his heart out every game. He just needs to gain some maturity and diversity, and he'll be a really strong player for the Deacs going forward from what I can tell.
-Daniel Green played 5 minutes and did not accumulate any stats. Anthony Fields did not play. I'm disappointed for Ant, but honestly Tony and C.J. were doing so well as the primary guards and Chase is a much bigger scoring threat, so I can see how he didn't make it in the game. I still think he has plenty to bring to the table though, so I hope for him he gets a chance to show his abilities soon, perhaps the game coming up on Wednesday (the day before my 25th birthday no less!) in College Park.
I watched this game twice; once live, and once on DVR when I got home, and both times, I was really REALLY impressed by this win. Virginia Tech is a team that has unquestionably had our number under Seth Greenberg, and I honestly think this game was the TINIEST bit of retribution for the #1 Knock-Off in the Joel two years ago. The games are mirror images. In both cases, a more talented team expected to be able to coast past a highly scrappy underdog who wanted it more, and paid for it. Obviously the difference in talent and the gravity of the game were much larger in 2009, but the narratives were much the same, and this one went in favor of the Deacs. Tech is picked to finish solidly in the top half of the league (I believe either third or fourth, correct me if I'm wrong) and we led it virtually wire to wire. This was no fluke; Wake was UNQUESTIONABLY the better team today, and they wanted it more.
I still don't expect great things this year but this win was HUGE. It was a strong win against a genuinely good squad that typically has our number in which we beat them at their own game (strength on the glass). My doubts about Jeff Bzdelik's ability to make adjustments are certainly somewhat evaporating, and coming off a year in which we feared going o-fer in the league late in the season, to vanquish that demon (no pun intended) the very first ACC game of the year is something that, if you'd told me yesterday would happen, I'd wonder which of Tech's starters was out of the game from wire to wire. But no, it was genuinely a game that, while far from dominant, was stronger than ANY game we saw from the Deacs last year. I feel like a million bucks right now, so I can't even fathom how the players and coaches feel. On to the next one.
As always, leave comments/questions/suggestions below. This game reminded me why I love Wake Forest. Go Deacs. Rollin' Ronin out.