Wake Forest lost in Atlanta tonight to Georgia Tech, 71-66, falling for the 9th game in a row in ACC play and the 11th consecutive game against Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
The Demon Deacons were led by Devin Thomas with 20 points and 8 rebounds (bringing him to 1001 rebounds for his career). Unlike the previous three games, Wake Forest's young team never looked dispirited and disinterested for long stretches, showing fight and persistence all game long. Even when the game was ugly, Wake was diving after balls and giving good effort defensively, but Wake's ACC road struggles continued, too much to overcome tonight even against a bad Georgia Tech team.
Wake started well, up 12-5 before the first television timeout by knocking down jumpers and feeding Devin Thomas in transition, forcing Georgia Tech into jump shots. Wake's offense stayed hot, aside from a few bad turnovers, keeping the lead around seven for the first ten minutes of the game, and as high as eleven. The early stretch reminded fans of what this group of young players is capable of on both ends. (Georgia Tech was also playing very poorly.)
Soon, however, Wake started settling for threes and Georgia Tech started throwing their weight around on the glass and down low offensively, and Wake's lead fell to five. Marcus Georges-Hunt scored 11 of the first 19 points for the Yellow Jackets giving the Deacon guards trouble inside and out.
After a few bad possessions for the Deacs offensively, Georgia Tech slowed down the pace of the game and cut the lead to two, 27-25. Wake's halfcourt offense stuttered on consecutive possessions and generally looked anemic. Each team traded off-ball fouls and the game really ground to a halt with 6:15 to go in the half until Wake was able to find Devin in the post again. At one point in the half, both teams had shot 13/25 from the field, and Wake's narrow lead was owed to early threes, but was not long for the game.
With 3:46 to go in the half, the Yellow Jackets tied the game up for the first time since 3-3. Poor guard play and shot selection for the Deacs and good post play from Georgia Tech leveled the game, and the teams traded baskets and turnovers after that through the end of the first half. Devin Thomas and Marcus Georges-Hunt had their way on the score sheet for their respective teams. Devin picked up a small knock in a scramble for the ball in the waning seconds, but Wake took a 39-35 lead into the break.
Of perhaps greatest note in the first half, the game's trivia question shouted out this blog's favorite sports statistician, the almighty KenPom and his "luck factor." (Editor's Note: This was the best part of the game)
Right out of the locker room, the Deacs went straight inside to Devin Thomas again, another would-be assist from Bryant Crawford, but Thomas was fouled. Devin missed both free throws, setting the tone for the second half. The teams traded sloppy possessions, turnovers, and fouls early.
Crawford played with a lot more aggressiveness in the early going of the second half and it was the difference for the Deacs keeping their lead through the first TV timeout. John Collins also contributed with a fantastic drive and score in traffic, giving the Deacs some momentum and energy off the bench. Georgia Tech brought full court pressure shortly thereafter, and Wake struggled to get into their offense.
When Devin Thomas picked up his third foul, lowering his shoulder on the offensive end, and Dinos Mitoglou was forced to defend the post, Georgia Tech quickly attacked the post and exploited their advantage inside. Mitoglou's three point attempts weren't falling either, and Georgia Tech took its first three of the game, 48-47. Danny Manning shuffled the deck, putting in Doral Moore and Mitchell Wilbekin, but Georgia Tech quickly grew its lead with Devin on the bench and a simple 2-3 zone.
Manning was forced to bring Devin Thomas back in early, entering again with 11:00 to go in the game, trailing by three points. His foul trouble forced him to play tentatively, though, and Tech extended their lead over the next several possessions. Dinos hurt his shoulder on the defensive end, giving John Collins more time. The 2-3 zone continued to give the Deacs some fits, but Greg McClinton gave some meaningful minutes for the Deacs with easy baskets and rebounds.
Still, at the under 8:00 timeout, the Tech lead was still at three, 56-53. As the lead fluctuated between three and five, the Deacs and Jackets traded buckets inside and both teams attempted to play zone. Two particularly frustrating plays for the Deacs went down during that stretch as Wake couldn't grab a rebound or finish a play on either end. As the clock wound down to the four minute mark, the Deacon offense again looked for Devin Thomas to carry the load, but the offense failed to get a good look.
Georgia Tech took its largest lead of the game into the under 4:00 timeout, up six points, 63-57. Wake was just too careless with the ball in the second half altogether, and the closing minutes put the final nail in the Deacon coffin. Wake was forcing passes inside, standing around on the perimeter, and just playing ugly basketball. After a late Brian Gregory timeout, the Yellow Jackets hit a dagger three pointer to stretch the lead to seven, and Wake never recovered. Bryant Crawford's fearless three-pointer (only Wake's third of the game) drew the Deacs within two with under a minute to play, but it wasn't enough to keep the Deacs in the game.
If something positive is to be taken from this game for Deacon fans, it's that the breakdown happened later in the game than the previous three. Much of the spirit seems to have run out of the team after the heartbreaking Virginia loss. Coach Manning still seems to struggle to find the right players to put on the floor to stop the offense from going cold and the defenses to stop penetration and inside scoring. Much of the optimism of the early season has started to run out as the team already begins to look forward to next year. If Wake wants to salvage anything from the season, they need to compete down the stretch in the remaining games and make a deep ACC tournament run.
Next up for the Deacs is NC State at home on Saturday.