Wake Forest fell at home tonight to 23rd-ranked Notre Dame, 69-58.
After Doral Moore's breakthrough performance last week against Boston College, he started the game on the bench and his freshman compatriot John Collins started in the post in his place. Collins made his presence felt early with a great run backdoor and an alley-oop finish. The two freshmen really made the most of their opportunities with Devin Thomas suspended for two games, each with their first starts of their respective careers.
Mike Brey's Fighting Irish scored quickly off the tip and then turned the ball over in consecutive possessions, but kept the Deacs in check with excellent transition defense. Thus, the game got off to a slow start. Lots of missed shots and bad halfcourt offense kept the score at 4-4 for the first four minutes of the half. Both teams struggled to convert at the rim as well, but hit the defensive glass hard.
The next four minutes weren't much more exciting, though Doral Moore showed more of his athleticism and above the rim playmaking ability following misses. Still, the game was 10-8 at the under 12:00 TV timeout, so allow me the indulgence of gushing about watching a 7 foot freshman run the floor and devour rebounds. Moore is a delight to watch. He and Collins should be able to take great advantage of their opportunities for Wake over the next few years.
Rondale Watson missed two free throws for the Deacs and then after a Doral Moore rebound failed to convert a second opportunity at the rim. On the next possession, Notre Dame hit its first three pointer of the game after missing its first five. That sparked the offense a little bit for both teams, trading baskets on consecutive possessions for the first time all game. That spurt was short-lived. The Deacs failed to score after two straight steals, and Notre Dame grabbed their biggest lead of the game, 20-12.
That lead stretched to ten quickly before the Deacs were able to end the 9-2 run. Zach Auguste started to find a groove for the Irish offensively, taking on Mitoglou and Collins with ease. Though Wake was able to limit Demetrius Jackson's scoring, his passing sliced Wake apart, whether it was backdoor or over the top. As the game finally started to open up, Wake found itself down 28-19 at the under 4:00 timeout. Wake settled for a lot of bad jump shots over a long stretch in the first half, going 0-8 from the perimeter.
Notre Dame couldn't stop Doral Moore so they contented themselves to foul him persistently. It mostly worked. Attention to Moore meant Bryant Crawford was able to play iso a little and cut the lead to seven. But the Irish could only contain Moore so long, and Wake cut the lead to five. Wake played great defense on the final Notre Dame possession of the half, forcing a long three, and Bryant Crawford immediately attacked the rim, drawing a foul with 1.6 seconds to go. He hit both free throws, drawing the lead within three, 28-25. That score carried Wake into half with momentum, on an 11-4 run.
For such a low-scoring affair, there were some nice takeaways for Wake. First, the three leading scorers for the Deacs in the first half were freshmen: Moore had 9 and Collins and Crawford each had 6. Every time this season looks particularly bleak, Wake fans must take solace in the fact that three very talented freshman will be on the roster next year.
The poor three point shooting in the first half didn't stop Mitchell Wilbekin from opening the second half with a long three, quickly tying the ball game. Zach Auguste crushed all of Wake's momentum though, stretching the Irish lead to six with great post moves inside and good defense on Collins. Demetrius Jackson also stepped up big defensively for Notre dam, and Wake really crumbled after the nice start to the second half. They mishandled passes and dribbles and allowed easy transition baskets for Notre Dame, who led by six at the under 16:00 timeout.
Wilbekin and Mitouglou hit threes for the Deacs, but Vasturia had answers for the Deacon threes. The Wake zone worked to stop the easy inside scoring for Notre Dame, but it led to some open looks on the perimeter, and the six point lead grew to ten in the following minutes. Brey's team was extremely well drilled, outrebounding the Deacs and passing extremely well around the outside. They did surpass their season average in turnovers, however, and that kept Wake in the game.
Wake got as close as five a few times as the game clock fell below ten minutes to go. The lead was just that at the under 8:00 timeout, 52-47. As the minutes ticked off the clock, Wake could get no closer than four in spite of some decent minutes from Rondale Watson spelling Bryant Crawford. While this game was hardly the best example, Manning did leave a lot of talent on the bench in the second half, a consistent problem of his bench coaching this season.
Wake's offensive rebounding kept them in the game down the stretch, and at the final television timeout of the game, Wake trailed 59-55. With a great opportunity to cut into the lead further, Wake still settled for outside shooting, extending their horrific streak for the game to 4-21, and effectively sealing the victory for the Irish. The final four minutes were truly terrible for the Deacs, taking bad shots, turning the ball over, and committing bad fouls. The game was generally closer than the final scoreline, but the Deacs certainly didn't do enough to win the game. As well as the freshmen played, the veterans Mitoglou, Wilbekin, and Miller-McIntyre combined for 5-32 shooting and 5 turnovers.
Unlike Marco Rubio, I have a hard time finding moral victories in 2nd place finishes. Especially because tonight, I think the Deacs could have won the basketball game with better shot selection. Every time I have to write about a bright future and a cloudy present it sounds less positive, even to myself as I write it. Still, we're only scratching the surface with these freshmen. If we can hold on to all three of them, and if the mounting losses don't shake their confidence, and if Danny Manning can improve as a coach, I do think this team is positioned to compete in the ACC going forward. Until then, though, this game was more of the same: promise, but not good enough.