Wake Forest fell at home to Minnesota tonight, 84-69, losing in their return to the ACC-Big Ten Challenge after a hiatus in 2013. Minnesota out-shot the Deacs from the field and the line and out-rebounded the Deacs on both ends on their way to their fifth victory of the season. Andre Hollins led the way for the Golden Gophers with 25 points, shooting 7/9 from 3, adding 7 rebounds. Where rebounding and ball movement in the halfcourt were early season success stories, they were failures of execution tonight as the Deacs finished the game with just eight assists and turned the ball over 18 times. Ultimately, Minnesota's threats from 3 point range and Wake's utter lack of consistent shooters beyond Mitchell Wilbekin made it an easy win for the Gophers, who improve to 5-2 on the year. The Deacs fell to 4-4 on the season and will face NC State in Raleigh on Saturday at 7:30. The loss from the Deacs drops the ACC to 0-4 in the Challenge as of the final whistle in Winston-Salem.
Minnesota's active pressing style in their halfcourt defense was clearly a point of focus in Coach Manning and his staff's scouting report, but guard play was sloppy yet again in the early going with three turnovers by guards in the first three minutes which led to an early 11-0 run. The frantic pace of the first ten minutes didn't even allow for an under 16 timeout until 12:21, but after that both teams settled into their halfcourt games and established their respective rhythms. Wake would counter the Gophers early run with a 12-4 run of their own with some heads up contributions from Cornelius Hudson and Miles Overton. The runs continued as Minnesota countered with an 8-0 run, hitting some open 3s and clogging the lane on defense with active hands and switches. Wake then went on a 6-0 run before Minnesota went on an 8-0 run which Wake countered with a 6-0 run; Wake finally ended the half on a 9-0 run. If you're tired of reading about runs, I'll get to some analysis.
Teams this year who have figured out how to keep Devin Thomas off the low blocks have had a lot of success, and the same was the case against Minnesota. Thomas did manage to pass well out of the double team and created good open looks for the likes of Mitchell Wilbekin and Darius Leonard, but he picked up his second foul with five minutes left in the first half. This led to extended playing time for Rountree and Overton, each of whom contributed on both ends. Overton drew fouls in transition, under the basket on defense, and in the offensive set, and Rountree spread the floor and passed extremely well. Wake...er...The Wakes, as color guy Bob Knight repeatedly called them, trailed by just one at the half.
It was all downhill from there.
Minnesota started the second half 5-5 from the floor, including 3-3 from outside, stretching their 1 point lead at half to their largest lead of the game at 11. Devin Thomas came back out from halftime active on the offensive glass but quickly picked up his third foul attacking the basket. Coach Manning rewarded Overton with more minutes in the second half, and he responded by drawing more fouls, hitting a 3, creating turnovers with his help defense, and helping Wilbekin break the press.
Where experienced players like Devin and Codi struggled to make their mark early, younger and role players kept Wake in the game. Madison Jones and Mitchell Wilbekin were more effective than Codi, and Aaron Rountree and Dinos Mitoglou helped protect the paint in Devin's absence. Codi and Devin did most of their damage on the free throw line in the second half. The team on the whole did a great job getting to the line but only shot 52% when they got there. Overton and Rountree were bright spots for the Demon Deacons tonight on the cusp of entering ACC play, but the same problems persist in Winston-Salem, sticking out more and more as the season progresses. If teams can continue to scout the Deacs over-reliance on Devin and Codi and limit the looks that Mitchell and Dinos get from outside, it will be tough sledding. Regardless, Coach Manning has a very challenging road ahead.