In what most would consider a lackluster effort, Wake Forest ultimately held off a scrappy UMBC team by a 78-73 final. The Retrievers seemingly drained three after three, making 9 total shots from beyond the arc, as the Deacs were a step slow across the defensive front throughout the game. Hindered by a shallow backcourt, both Devin Thomas and Dinos Mitoglou provided a dominant inside presence to lift Wake offensively as Thomas put up 21 points and 17 boards while Mitoglou chipped in 19 points and 16 rebounds.
Wake held a narrow 41-40 lead at the break with both Thomas and Mitoglou into double figures. Ultimately the Deacs won because they were the bigger and better team, but they generally were not able to capitalize on UMBC's weaknesses consistently throughout the game which is a cause for concern moving forward. The Retrievers were quick off the dribble at the guard position and Wake was giving up blow by after blow by after blow by. While some of this was attributable to Codi Miller-McIntyre not being healthy to start the year, it seemed to be a widespread issue for everyone else as even Thomas got beat on the baseline a couple times.
One bright spot was the emergence of freshman John Collins on the offensive end in the second half of the game. During one four-minute stretch Collins got the ball on multiple trips with his back to the basket and effectively fashioned together an impressive 10 point, 6 rebound statline which included an athletic tip pass under the basket resulting in an easy layup inside for the Deacs. If he can provide some meaningful minutes spelling interior guys throughout the season, he could easily provide a critical spark for the Demon Deacon offense.
Defensively the Deacs were predominantly in man-to-man but went into a little bit of zone at times, particularly towards the end of the first half but UMBC was still able to shoot over the top with some success. Despite their 4-26 record last year, UMBC appeared to be well-coached and athletic. They were quick off the ball and consistently were able to move well laterally. Led in scoring by Jourdan Grant who has 20 points as well as 5 points and 5 boards. UMBC had four guys in double digits but gave up a whopping 58 rebounds to a Demon Deacon team who had a considerably bigger and stronger front court.
Bryant Crawford started at the point guard position and despite heading back to the locker room briefly in the first half with what appeared to be some sort of minor hand injury, returned in the second half and put up 9 points while snagging 5 boards and 2 assists. Greg McClinton was also in the starting lineup but was riddled with foul trouble from a whistle-heavy first half and fouled out with only 6 points and 5 rebounds with under 10 minutes remaining in the contest. Mitchell Wilbekin rounded out the first five and contributed 8 points but only 1 rebound and 1 assist.
The Deacs also received meaningful minutes from freshman center Doral Moore who chipped in 2 points and 3 boards as well as recent scholarship recipient Trent Van Horn and walk-on Grant O-Brien. Van Horn scored 3 points.
In total the Deacs shot a relatively poor 37.7% from the field, missing a total of 43 shots in the run of play. From the charity stripe Wake went 23 for 30 (76.7%) but looked absolutely miserable from beyond the arc going a dreadful 3-20 (15%). The Deacs will have to improve their effective field goal percentage moving forward but going over 75% from the free throw line is a solid sign for the season opener. Wake was also very athletic at times inside on defense, blocking a total of 11 shots.
Wake returns to action on Sunday when they take it on the road for the first time to play the Bucknell Bison. The Bison promise to be a difficult early-season test for a team missing a couple of starters due to suspension and injury. If Wake doesn't improve defensively, it could be a long afternoon for a team who dominated Division III Shenandoah 107-61 Friday night. I firmly believe that Manning will have this team ready to go Sunday and the Deacs will piece together a solid performance to build off of tonight's season-opening win. Deacs looked sloppy at times but got to 1-0 and that's what matters - time to move forward. And as always, go Deacs!