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Defense propels Deacs to upset over No. 19 Tar Heels

Wake Forest held the 19th-ranked Heels to less than 40% shooting and start the ACC season on a winning note.

A happy bench greets senior Travis McKie after he hits a 3-pointer in the 2nd half of Wake's 73-67 victory Sunday night
A happy bench greets senior Travis McKie after he hits a 3-pointer in the 2nd half of Wake's 73-67 victory Sunday night
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

WINSTON-SALEM, NC-- What if I told you a Wake Forest team could get out-rebounded by 19, shoot 19-33 from the free throw line and beat No. 19 North Carolina? No, that isn't a premise for the next 30 for 30 on ESPN. Rather, it is what actually occured Sunday night, as the Demon Deacons defeated the Tar Heels 73-67 in front of a raucous crowd of 12,462 at Joel Coliseum.

"First of all, I want to thank our fans," head coach Jeff Bzdelik said as he opened his postgame media session. "Just a great team effort by our team. They all stood out."

Senior Travis McKie scored 16 points, including a streaking layup and-one as the Deacs feverishly clung to a 3-point lead with just over a minute remaining. Arnaud William Adala Moto scored 11 points and grabbed 9 rebounds on the night, but it was his 4 straight made free throws that helped ice the game for the Deacs. Despite once again shooting poorly from the line as a team (57.6%), Wake Forest made 6 straight free throws in the final minute to preserve the victory.

The pivotal moment for Wake Forest came after a James Michael McAdoo dunk with 5:49 remaining brought the Tar Heels within 6, 56-50. The Deacs' Madison Jones then turned the ball over, leading to a loose-ball scrum between Leslie McDonald and Tyler Cavanaugh. In the struggle for possession on the floor, McDonald elbowed Cavanaugh and the officials went to the replay monitor. McDonald was called for the technical, and McKie made one of two- the second rebounded and put back by Devin Thomas.

"We weren't tough enough, physical enough, strong enough, explosive enough whatever to finish the plays at that point," North Carolina head coach Roy Williams said. We got it to a one possesion game then we took two shots that we rushed. Congratulate Jeff and his staff and his team."

The Deacons (11-3, 1-0 ACC) held a tenuous 34-32 lead at halftime despite being out-rebounded 17-1 on the offensive glass. Thomas missed much of the first half, sidelined with 2 early fouls. Meanwhile, UNC head coach Roy Williams elected to leave starters McAdoo and J.P. Tokoto in the game despite their early foul trouble. The gamble backfired, as both collected their third foul before the halftime buzzer sounded.

McAdoo led the scoring for the Tar Heels (10-4, 0-1 ACC) with 13 points, followed by 12 apiece from Tokoto and Brice Johnson. The Deacs took advantage of UNC's 17 turnovers, scoring 19 points. The Tar Heels ultimately could not take advantage of their advantage on the offensive boards, garnering only 17 second chance points off 24 offensive rebounds.

The Deacs' defensive effort was greatly augmented by Aaron Rountree's best effort thus far on the young season. Rountree blocked 4 Tar Heel shots and altered several more, and was also credited with 3 steals. Jones, who found his way back into the starting lineup after a few games coming off the bench, also had 3 steals to go along with his 6 points and 3 assists.

Next up for the Demon Deacons are two straight road games, beginning Wednesday night at Virginia (7 p.m., RSN). Wake will then travel to Pittsburgh on Saturday to face the Panthers in a noon game (ACC Network). Wake Forest will return home on Wednesday, January 15 for a 9:00 p.m. tussle with the N.C. State Wolfpack.