Wake Forest (5-6) had two opportunities to take the lead late in the second half versus Florida (7-4). Down 46-45, the Demon Deacons turned the ball over on consecutive possessions and sealed their fate, a 63-50 loss to the Gators.
The Deacs played without their two best shooters Mitchell Wilbekin and Cornelius Hudson due to the suspension, along with Rondale Watson. Without enough guards, the Deacs were forced to play walk-on Trent Van Horn- who played a total of 10 minutes on the season before today- for 11 minutes.
Facing the No. 17 team in KenPom's rankings, the Demon Deacons had viable excuses for their loss. But Danny Manning wouldn't take the bait, "You either win or you lose. There are no moral victories. Whoever we put out there we expect to get the job done."
After an early 10-7 Wake lead, the Gators scored the next 15 points. They took control of the paint and stifled Wake's depleted backcourt through full court presses and half court traps. At the end of the first half, the Deacs trailed 28-19 and turned the ball over 16 times.
Codi Miller-McIntyre came out aggressive attacking the basket scoring nine of his 16 in the first half. Outside of the junior guard, the offense was stagnant and error-prone. They did play physical defense, limiting the Gators to 32.1 percent from the field.
Wake Forest adjusted at halftime on offense through an effective press break and timely shot-making. Dinos Mitoglou hit back-to-back threes and Darius Leonard added 10 points. These big men got open looks because the Gators double-teamed Devin Thomas on every touch. Thomas labored for seven points, nine rebounds and 10 turnovers.
"Devin's going to get double-teamed every night. That's the scheme of teams is not to let him score," Manning said. "We will continue to get him the ball. We need to make adjustments and make better cuts to the basket. But that's a credit to Devin for all the hard work he's done that [opponents] think enough of him to double-team him."
With under eight minutes left the Deacs were down one and surging. With the momentum, Thomas turned the ball over in the post. Then Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida's leading scorer with 16 points, hit a three-pointer. The subsequent possession, Thomas lost the ball in the post again. On the other end, high-flying Chris Walker finished over the rim to put the Gators up 52-45.
Miller-McIntyre kept the Deacs alive by converting on an acrobatic four-point play. But from there, Florida scored 11 straight points to ice the game.
"Both teams struggled on offense," Billy Donovan said. "It hurt that they didn't have Mitchell Wilbekin, their best 3-point shooter, and two others. But to me it was a sloppy game with no flow at all."
Overall, Wake had 24 turnovers, but also had 13 assists out of 17 made shots. Meanwhile, Florida had 15 turnovers.
This game was similar to [our losses] to Miami and Georgetown. But tonight, I saw some internal fight," Donovan said, "Our players weren't looking around at each other. They stayed competitive and fought. We didn't look or play pretty but we have to give Wake credit for that."
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