The Wake Forest Demon Deacons (9-4) gave the Louisville Cardinals (12-2) all they could handle at the KFC Yum! Center, but Louisville made enough key plays down the stretch to pull away 65-57. Louisville was led offensively by freshman Donovan Mitchell, who finished with a game-high 18 points. Damion Lee and Chinanu Onuaku each had 12. Bryant Crawford and Devin Thomas each had 14 points for the Demon Deacons.
This contest started off at a blistering pace, as the score was 14-9 Louisville just 5 minutes into the contest. Things cooled off, however, and Louisville led 35-27 at halftime. Louisville got that lead by doing an excellent job on the offensive glass and earning 12 second-chance points. Grabbing defensive rebounds was something that Wake was going to have to do well tonight in order to win, and they did not do that well early, although it did improve as the game progressed. Louisville had been grabbing 50% of their missed field goals entering the game, but Wake limited them to just 30% on Sunday night.
In the second half, Wake Forest continued to show the toughness that they have displayed all season. They got out to a hot start at the beginning of the second half to cut the lead to three, and forced Louisville head coach Rick Pitino to call a timeout. Louisville responded over the next 8 minutes and extended their lead to 9 points after Damion Lee drained a three to give Louisville a 50-41 lead. The Cardinals faithful were energized at that point, but the Deacs did not back down.
A combination of a nasty Doral Moore follow-up dunk and a jumper from Cornelius Hudson put the Deacs down 7 points at the under-8 timeout. The Deacs stormed out of the timeout with back-to-back threes from Dinos Mitoglou and Mitchell Wilbekin to cut the Louisville deficit to just one point, and caused Rick Pitino to take another timeout.
Freshman Bryant Crawford made a sensational three with 2:32 remaining to tie the game at 56. He got quite fired up after that one, and some Louisville fans would say too much. Either way, Louisville responded with a Donovan Mitchell layup on the opposite end. Crawford came down with a heat check three that didn't go in. I really didn't hate the shot, and he had a pretty clean look from the right elbow.
The Deacs got the stop they needed on the defensive end, and Dinos Mitoglou even secured a rebound and was fouled to send him to the charity stripe for a one-and-one. As was the case for Wake Forest tonight, he did not convert on his opportunity to tie the game. As a team, Wake Forest made just 3 of 12 free throws, while Louisville made 10 of 14. Wake lost by 8, so free throws were pivotal in this contest.
After the missed free throw, Damion Lee made a difficult shot off the glass to put the Cardinals up by 4 with just over one minute to go. Wake was struggling to get something going to the next offensive possession, and they should have gotten off a better shot than a Codi Miller-McIntyre's three-point attempt with nearly half of the shot clock remaining. Louisville secured the rebound, and the rest was academic.
Wake Forest fought damn hard in this contest, and impressed a lot of people. One notable person was Rick Pitino.
"Wake Forest is no longer rebuilding. They're there," UL coach Rick Pitino said.— Deacons Illustrated (@WakeRivals) January 4, 2016
It's unfortunate and disheartening to not come out, this could have been Wake's best performance of the season. They had just 9 turnovers, and had 18 assists and 24 made field goals. Wake did a nice job in transition, and was very patient against the zone. Bryant Crawford is a playmaker, and is going to be a sensational player for the Deacs. He didn't have the best shooting percentage, but he makes gorgeous passes, and he does not shy away from big moments. Rondale Watson played 22 minutes for Wake tonight, and I thought he was efficient in his time on the court. He made a nice jumper, and played fairly good defense. He could be a surprising asset for the Deacs as they continue into conference play.
Louisville will travel to Raleigh on Thursday to take on North Carolina State.
Wake Forest fans have a lot to be excited about. The Deacs will face #15 Duke at home on Wednesday night. If Wake gives another effort like they did against Louisville, then the Deacs have a very real chance to knock of the Blue Devils.