It's fitting that in the Skip Prosser Classic I'm about to quote an author, specifically Charles Dickens. Tuesday's contest against #6 Xavier truly was the best of times and the worst of times for the Demon Deacons. Wake Forest found themselves up by as many as 18 points in the first half, and entered halftime with a 43-28 lead. Xavier erased that deficit faster than any White Out could have ever done. The Musketeers started the second half on a 21-4 run and took a 49-47 lead with under 14 minutes to play. They never trailed again, and won by a final score of 78-70.
The Wake Forest Demon Deacons got off to as great of a start as any Wake Forest fan could have asked for. The Deacs made 5 of 12 threes and had as many rebounds as Xavier did. Considering how excellent of a rebounding team Xaiver is (foreshadowing), that was damn good. They also limited Xavier to just 29% shooting, and made all 10 of their free throws. That's the formula to get up by as many as 18 points on a top-10 team and get the Joel rocking. They were getting out in transition, and scored 12 points off turnovers. It was truly one of the best halves I can recall seeing Wake Forest play in quite some time. The last-second put back they allowed they meant the Deacons were up 15 points at halftime. They allowed that bucket by failing to box out, and that trend continued into the second half.
Xavier looked like a far more desperate and intense team in the second half. They came out with excellent defensive intensity, while Wake Forest was simply too passive. The results then took care of themselves. Xavier put great pressure on the ball, and Wake Forest was lackluster in their offensive sets. The passes were not crisp and the offense seemed as though it had zero purpose. They did not look to get the ball into the paint nearly enough. Wake was also atrocious at getting back on defense, and allowed Xavier far too many run outs that led to dunks. It was unacceptable.
Headed into the game there was the concern that Dinos would be a defensive liability due to the 4-out offense that Xaiver runs, and that unfortunately proved to be true. He was also 0-7 from the field, so he was perhaps even more costly on the offensive end. But he wasn't the only one who struggled. Codi Miller-McIntyre didn't look 100% confident, and was just 1-7 from the floor. Wake as a team made just 6 field goals in the second half, and shot 20% from the field. That's a direct result of not running real offense and being too passive with the ball.
Wake Forest found themselves down 9 points with 6:33 remaining. Yes, a team who had an 18-point lead less than 17 game minutes prior, found themselves down 9. To Wake's credit, they battled back and made it an exciting finish. Freshmen Bryant Crawford and John Collins sparked the spurt. Crawford hit a 3, then John Collins scored 5 consecutive points, points 4 and 5 came via a dunk after receiving a gorgeous pass from Crawford. The lead was then down to 1 and the Joel was rocking again.
Wake got a stop, then Crawford took a heat check three that was well off the mark. Crawford drove with the ball down just 2, and then got called for a charge. I'll be honest, I didn't think he lowered his shoulder and could have made a strong case that it was a block, though I admit Crawford was somewhat out of control. After the play he received a technical foul. I'm not sure what, if anything, he did, so I can't comment. I will say, however, that the officiating was largely suspect on Tuesday evening. The officials certainly weren't the reason that the Deacons blew their massive lead, but I don't know how in the world Dinos Mitoglou was called for a blocking call with 3:19 remaining. That was a textbook hook by James Farr, and he got away with it a multitude of times. It's nearly impossible to defend a player when he hooks, and that put Wake at a significant disadvantage.
The Deacs had several good looks from beyond the arc in the final minutes, but they could not convert. Mitchell Wilbekin missed a 3 pointer down 6 with 30 seconds to go, and that sealed it.
Edmond Sumner and Trevon Bluiett led the way for Xavier. Sumner scored a career-high 21 points, while Bluiett had 17 of his own. Wake was able to get Jalen Reynolds in foul trouble early on, but James Farr was still a strong force coming off of the bench. Xavier will travel to Villanova on December 31st.
Wake Forest was led by Bryant Crawford, who finished with 16 points, though his 5 turnovers were costly. At times he still plays too much out of control, but there's no denying his talent. John Collins had 11 points and 4 rebounds in 19 minutes. I believe Manning needs to find a way to continue getting him more playing time. Devin Thomas had 10 points and 8 rebounds, but was limited to just 20 minutes of action due to foul trouble. He was an impressive 8-10 from the foul line.
This one will hurt for some time. It's not that Wake lost, but it's how Wake lost. I believe a lot of fans were still hesitant to light the cigar at halftime given Wake Forest's shaky ability to hold onto leads, but I don't think anyone anticipated Xaiver storming back so quickly. Hopefully this turns into a learning experience for the Deacs. They are still 8-3, and have the opportunity to get a big road win over LSU in one week.