On Senior Night in Winston-Salem, Wake Forest said goodbye to standout seniors Devin Thomas and Codi Miller-McIntyre with a loss, 81-74.
Though the seniors were being honored, it has been the freshmen who have impressed in recent games with standout performances by Doral Moore and John Collins alongside the ACC rookie of the week, Bryant Crawford. The reigning award winner Crawford got off to an excellent start and helped the Deacs out to a 6-0 lead early.
An early impression that struck me tonight as the game slowly got underway was about sophomore forward Dinos Mitoglou; while his defensive struggles have been well-documented this season, the young man from Greece has made tremendous strides in his post game this season both offensively and on the glass. He runs the floor well and gets into good positions to grab rebounds. He's never going to have great lateral foot speed to be able to defend quicker post players or recover from high hedges, but he's really grown to play within himself as the season has progressed.
Wake kept their early lead with great transition defense and feeding the post. Once Devin Thomas hit the bench though, Virginia Tech attacked the middle of the Wake zone, and the Deacon killer Justin Bibbs got hot from outside giving Tech their first lead of the game ahead of the under 12:00 first half timeout.
For one of the first times this season, Doral Moore and John Collins played at the same time together, giving Wake fans a view towards the future of Wake basketball. It was very short lived, and after one near giveaway, Coach Manning put Dinos and Devin back in the game. The veteran leadership did not help Wake stop the Virginia Tech run and the Hokies went on a 12-3 run to take a seven point lead. Mitchell Wilbekin hit back-to-back threes to stop the bleeding and Wake switched from a zone to a man-to-man defense, cutting the lead to three, 29-26.
Codi Miller-McIntyre looked like a senior leader in the first half, not forcing shots but taking and making them and reminding Deacon fans why they loved him for the previous three years before he broke his foot. John Collins also found his way to the basket and the line again as the first half wound down to the under 4:00 timeout, trying to pull the Deacs within a point.
For the rest of the half, the two teams traded baskets and the pace of the game slowed to a halt with each team earning trips to the free throw line. One player who impressed big time in the first half for Virginia Tech was Chris Clarke, the freshman big man who got to the rim with ease and picked up some big rebounds for his team. After 20 minutes, four ties, and nine lead changes, Virginia Tech led at the half, 37-36.
After a frantic, ugly start to the second half, the teams settled in a little bit and Virginia Tech built back another small lead. Wake tried to get Devin Thomas involved, but he couldn't convert from the line. After Devin's slow start, Manning finally unleashed Doral Moore who quickly earned himself a trip to the line and affected a shot on the other end. By the first TV timeout of the second half, Wake cut the lead back to the halftime deficit of one, 42-41.
Doral Moore earned another trip to the line after the timeout, though again he hit just one of two free throws. Notably on the next Deacon possession, Dinos Mitoglou threw the first lob that was too high for the freshman Moore all season, something I didn't think I'd ever see. Every time Wake tied the game up, Virginia Tech had an answer, and then after an 11-2 run the Hokies stretched their lead by the under 12:00 timeout to 55-46.
Devin Thomas refused to give up on his senior night. He worked hard in the post all game, but really struggled on the free throw line. The referees gave him ample second chances too, with multiple lane violations called, and he just couldn't convert his chances. After a few good defensive possessions, Mitchell Wilbekin hit his third three pointer of the night, cutting the lead to four but the momentum would not shift a bit towards the Deacs. Devin Thomas also picked up his fourth foul with over eight minutes left in the game, and the Wake guards were forced to play a bigger role down the stretch.
Virginia Tech had plenty of chances to put Wake away as the minutes ticked down, but Wake got good minutes from bench players and managed to cut the Hokie lead under six a few times. Codi was particularly solid for the Deacs on his senior night, cutting to the rim and hitting contested jump shots, and by the under 4:00 timeout, Wake had cut the lead to four, 66-62.
Codi quickly cut that lead to three and Devin Thomas checked back in. The crowd got to its feet and then quickly sat back down as the three point lead stretched to eight in consecutive possessions. It was the story of the night for the Deacs, who could not pull back a lead in the second half. Every time Wake cut the lead down to a manageable deficit, the Hokies had quick answers. Wake was plagued by similar struggles as they had been all year: poor free throw shooting and too many turnovers. Wake's seniors did have good games. Devin Thomas had 12 and 5, and Codi Miller-McIntyre had 19 points, 2 assists, and 2 steals. Coach Manning gave them a curtain call as the clock ran down, but the night was all Virginia Tech's.
Much credit is due to Buzz Williams for his work with this Virginia Tech team. After four straight finishes in the cellar for the Hokies, the second year coach has the team playing .500 basketball in the conference and heading towards a first round bye in the ACC tournament. He has his team shooting well, getting to the line, and playing with determination this season, getting better as the season went along.
Meanwhile, trailing off my commentary from the Notre Dame game, I mentioned I thought the Deacs had bad shot selection, and I think the same was true tonight. Any volume shooting from the perimeter for this Wake Forest team is generally a bad decision. but when it's players other than Mitoglou and Wilbekin, that's especially bad shot selection. The team doesn't shoot well outside the paint, and shouldn't look to take more than a handful of threes per game, at least through this writer's eyes.
And running the risk of beating a long-dead horse, there are some serious question marks looming around Danny Manning's coaching chops in games. While some players have certainly developed well under his tutelage, he seems to struggle with personnel decisions, leaving players on the bench for too long and taking a frustratingly hard stance on giving his freshmen big men significant time. But look, I'm just an amateur blogger and fan - Coach Manning is far smarter and more knowledgeable about the game than I'll ever be. If I'm objective, I think he needs some help on the bench, and he has all the potential of the young Wake team. A risk of writing about a struggling team is making every game a referendum on the coaching staff, players, or even the entire athletic department. I'll just sign off by saying I'm excited about the baseball team, and that I'm really gonna miss these seniors. I wish they'd been more fortunate and had more team success in their college careers.