Iona's three point shooters were too much for the young Wake Forest team to handle as the Deacs fell 85-81 at home in the first of a five game home stand in Winston-Salem. Fresh off the first loss of the season on the road at Arkansas and playing in their third game in five days, Wake lost a tough one to the Gaels and fell to 2-2 on the season. The slow start in the first half for Wake, coupled with a storm of Iona threes and easy inside buckets led to an eight point halftime lead. Wake started the second half with four quick points, but Iona stretched its halftime lead out 13, a lead the Deacons cut into several times but never overcame. The Deacs cut it to two in the final minute of the game, but Coach Manning was issued a technical foul with 23 seconds left for taking a timeout he didn't have, and the Gaels made just enough free throws down the stretch to hold on and win. Junior Iona guard AJ English led the way for Iona with 27 points; the quick release of his catch and shoot was too much for even a disciplined halfcourt defense of the Deacs who had no meaningful answer.
Coach Manning emphasized after the Arkansas "beatdown" that he didn't have his team ready to play, that turnovers were still an issue, and that the Deacs needed shooters and scorers. Manning continued to experiment with lineups (starting the game with Miller-McIntyre, Wilbekin, Hudson, Leonard, and Thomas), but the substitution patterns, active in the first three games, calmed down significantly against Iona. Another area this game looked different was the pace -- from the outset, Wake slowed things down considerably from the frantic pace of the first three games, most likely in an effort to cut down on turnovers. While ball control continued to be problematic, pace was a marked change as the Deacs were able to set their halfcourt offense and get in good rebounding position on both ends, outrebounding Iona 55-34. The Deacs also led the Gaels in second chance points 16-2 but were outscored significantly from the perimeter and in transition. Manning's substitution patterns were most active in the final minutes of the game making offensive/defensive subs late trying to claw back the lead late.
Where pace and turnover margin were improved greatly, jump shooting continues to be a glaring weakness. If Wake can rely on Leonard and Wilbekin to be outside threats it will go a long way toward keeping opponents from packing the lane, especially in conference play. On the flip side, freshmen Wilbekin and Cornelius Hudson settled for long 2s and contested 3s far too often in the early going, forcing their shots and disrupting offensive rhythm. Codi Miller-McIntyre managed to shed his snakebitten look from previous games, attacking the rim, following his shots, and looking to push play when he could, playing generally to his strengths.
The lone senior, transfer Darius Leonard knocked down four open 3s early on in the contest to get the scoring underway as ball movement and spacing continue to be a positive for the young Deacon team. Early success from three-point range led to some poor shot selection from Wake Forest late in the first half as the Deacons fell behind by six on a few occasions in the first half and double digits by the second half.
Iona's game plan was apparent from the start, double teaming Devin Thomas every time he touched the ball, and limiting his first half scoring to five points on six foul shots. Devin was far more effective on the defensive end, protecting the rim with a couple of blocks and good defensive rebounding position. Devin's first field goal came with four minutes gone in the second half as the Deacs flipped the script on David Laury III going at him directly and sending him to the bench with foul trouble midway through the second half. Devin's slow start from the field didn't stop him from earning his fourth straight double-double on the season and 13th in a row going back to last year, as he picked up the scoring and became the focal point of the Deacons attack in the second half, though he would eventually foul out and finish the game with 12 points and a season high 18 rebounds. Laury III gave the Deacons fits in the early going attacking the glass hard down low and scoring 8 points in the first half and contributing to early foul trouble for the freshman forward Mitoglou.
The Deacs look to get back on track against Nicholls State at LJVM on Monday, 11/24 at 7PM on ESPN3.