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Wake Forest Mounts Second Half Comeback to Defeat Rutgers 69-68

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Sigh of relief for Wake Forest.

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

The Wake Forest Demon Deacons found themselves trailing Rutgers 58-46  with 9:02 remaining in the contest, but outscored the Scarlet Knights 23-10 over the remainder of the game to get the 69-68 road victory. It was Wake Forest's 4th road or neutral site win of the season, which is already the most Wake Forest has had since the 2009-2010 season. Wake Forest was led by senior Devin Thomas, who finished with 23 points and 17 rebounds. I can't say enough about how important he was to Wake in this game. He was excellent.

The first half was not was Dr. James Naismith had in mind when he invented the beautiful game of basketball. Wake Forest shot just 33% from the field, while Rutgers was even worse at 26%. The teams combined for 14 turnovers, and shot a collective 4-23 from beyond the arc. Still, Wake Forest had a 29-24 halftime lead thanks to three three-pointers from Mitchell Wilbekin, and seven points apiece from Devin Thomas and John Collins.

Wake was far more effective when they got the ball into the post, but Rutgers did a nice job of denying entry passes when they were in their 2-3 zone. Wake did a decent job of being patient in the zone, and took solid shots from the perimeter, but they just didn't fall. The rims were kind of tight, to be honest. Wake also had some careless turnovers on two inbounds passes. Those were just a matter of focus. Rutgers was very poor on the offensive end, and averaged just .678 points per possession. They did, however, outrebound the Deacs in the first half, which had to be one of Danny Manning's talking points at halftime.

Rutgers came out in the second half and out scored the Deacs 17-8 over the first 5 minutes. They made difficult shots, but Wake Forest did a horrific job of defending their men, and also allowed easy put back opportunities. Fortunately for Wake Forest, Devin Thomas provided a boost on their end, otherwise it could have gotten out of hand.

The next 3 minutes were very back-and-forth, and the Deacs found themselves trailing 47-43 at the under-12 timeout. Rutgers then turned into some sort of offensive juggernaut out of nowhere and found themselves leading Wake Forest 58-46. Wake Forest quickly responded with threes from Bryant Crawford and Mitchell Wilbekin on back-to-back possessions to cut Rutgers' lead back to 6. Without that spurt, I don't think Wake wins this game. Wake responded with a steal, and should have had an easy transition bucket, but Bryant Crawford inexplicably dropped it behind his back to Mitchell Wilbekin, who travelled as a result of not being prepared to receive the ball. Crawford just needed to dunk the ball.

Rutgers' wild shots no longer went in, and Wake Forest did an excellent job of grabbing rebounds and making their free throws. They went on a 16-2 run and took a 62-60 lead with 3:55 remaining in the contest. After a pair of free throws by Greg Lewis of Rutgers, Wake Forest found themselves trailing by 1 point. Cornelius Hudson caught the ball on the wing and made a difficult shot to give the Deacs a one point lead with 18 seconds remaining. Wake clamped down on the final possession, both initially, and then after an inbounds pass. Devin Thomas grabbed a rebound, missed his first free throw, then wisely intentionally missed the second. Rutgers' full-court heave was no good, and Wake survived.

John Collins was a huge spark for Wake Forest off the bench. He finished with 11 points in just 16 minutes, and had a +/- of +16. Mitchell Wilbekin's threes were also huge. Some of the questionable lineup decisions in the second half seemed to be when Rutgers went on their run. Doral Moore, Rondale Watson, and Trent VanHorn simply cannot be on the floor together. That's not going to produce a good outcome.

In total, Wake Forest got outrebounded 46-45, and had 18 turnovers to just 10 for Rutgers. Wake did a nice job of getting to the line, but between the offensive rebounds and the turnovers, Rutgers had 74 field goal attempts to Wake's 58. Those things will have to improve. Corey Sanders, who was dealing with an injury, scored 17 points for Rutgers.

Still, a win is a win.

Rutgers (3-4) will host Seton Hall (5-1) on Saturday. Wake Forest (5-2) will host Arkansas (2-3) on Friday. Blogger So Dear will have coverage to get you ready for that one.