The Road to Nowhere
The roller coaster ride that is the Wake Forest basketball team sped once again towards the bottom Saturday afternoon during a 61-53 loss at Clemson, as the Deacons dropped yet another road game and the offense sputtered. Preseason questions about scoring still remain unanswered (at least on a consistent basis) and senior Travis McKie has gone M.I.A. after a 16-point outing against North Carolina back on January 5th.
Offensive ineptitude ruled the day Saturday, as Wake's leading scorers were graduate student Coron Williams (13 points) and sophomore Tyler Cavanaugh (12 points). Codi Miller-McIntyre, who has to be good and border on great almost every night, scored 6 points on 3-14 shooting and Devin Thomas scored 8 points while not attempting a single free throw. The Deacs as a whole struggled mightily in Tigertown, shooting 36.2 percent for the game.
The lone bright spot once again was Arnaud William Adala Moto, who despite going 2-7 from the field made 6-8 free throws and snatched 6 rebounds, 5 of them on the offensive end. The loss dropped Wake Forest to 12-6, 2-3 in ACC play.
The Tigers prevailed largely because of Wake's inability to stop K.J. McDaniels, who finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds, scoring over anyone coach Jeff Bzdelik put in front of him. The Tigers were no offensive juggernaut, to be sure, but attempted 21 free throws to the Deacs' 10, largely because Wake Forest seemed a step late on defense for much of the game.
The Deacons have had a few days to lick their wounds before making their way to Blacksburg Wednesday night to face the Hokies. The Hokies have just one win in the ACC and stand 12th in the conference, showing little improvement over last year's 13-19 campaign. One of their 4 conference wins however, was a 66-65 victory over the Demon Deacons.
We say this a lot in Wake Forest-land: "This is a must-win."
Well, Wednesday night is a must-win. In my opinion, the Wake Forest road woes are now less about physical execution and more about mental toughness. There's no way the 1-27 ACC road record under Bzdelik doesn't weigh on these kids, and it should. Moreover, by my count the Deacs need 6 more wins to make a postseason tournament but if they don't win on the road- nobody's inviting them anywhere.
Why should they?
It was evident during the BSD staff, "call for picks" prior to Saturday's game. In a flash, every respondent including myself was quick to offer a grim prognostication- no wagers on a close finish. Even the most "glass half-full" Wake fans I talk to are starting to believe that the Deacs might never win another ACC road game. The Deacs have a small window to change that mindset, with Syracuse and Notre Dame coming to visit in the next two weeks. There is still the not-so-small matter of Duke (twice) and a return match with hapless N.C. State to deal with.
The time is now for these Demon Deacons to show the ACC that they are mentally tough enough to withstand the rigors of ACC competition, and are ready to take the next step forward.
Meanwhile, after a 9-4 start which included a record-breaking scoring performance from senior Chelsea Douglas, the Wake Forest women dropped their first four conference games heading into Monday night's televised contest against Clemson from Littlejohn Coliseum. Junior Dearica Hamby was the ACC leader in scoring heading into the game against the Tigers, but with no consistent third scorer (wait-where have I heard that before?) the Deacs are struggling mightily.
This is a Deacon team where everyone plays- largely because they have to. They'll have to buckle down even further after redshirt freshman guard Kelila Atkinson injured her calf in Atlanta. Atkinson and freshman Jill Brunori were expected to be major contributors this season, but Atkinson has been battling injuries since Fall Break that have put her way behind the ACC learning curve.
Brunori, for her part, has been steady for the Deacs despite coming off a torn ACL during her senior season of high school. She's shown that she's not scared to mix it up with the best of the ACC, and in turn is drawing a lot of attention. She's the perfect "Yin" to Hamby's "Yang" and they play a beautiful two-man game when afforded the opportunity on offense.
That's why the 68-61 win against Clemson on Monday night will go a long way towards giving this young, talented team some confidence as the long season wears on. Coach Jen Hoover has preached since her arrival that they can't be a team that figures it out right at ACC Tournament time, like they've done in recent years past. Getting hot in March is always great, but it's ultimately meaningless if January and February bear little fruit.
Hamby did her more than her share against Clemson, notching her 14th double-double of the season with 29 points and 18 rebounds. Senior Chelsea Douglas emerged from her recent offensive slump adding 18 points of her own. Perhaps the most surprising performance of the evening belonged to sophomore post player Kandice Ball, who contributed 12 rebounds and 6 blocked shots in the victory.
The ladies have scan time to celebrate their first ACC win, however, as North Carolina rolls into town on Thursday night (7:00 p.m.). The Tar Heels and their sensational freshman Diamond DeShields have been rolling as of late, and sport a 16-3 record, 4-1 in the ACC. The Heels demolished the Deacs last year in Chapel Hill, and this year's team is better.
Stranger things have happened at the Joel, however, so don't completely rule out a little Wake Forest magic on Thursday night.