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Recap: Wake Forest knocks off Illinois 80-73

The Deacs knocked off the previously undefeated Fighting Illini tonight in Winston-Salem

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

It sure as hell wasn’t pretty, but for Wake Forest it is a win and that is all that matters right now. The Demon Deacons improved to 3-4 on the season with an 80-73 win over previously undefeated Illinois (6-1).

This was a pretty ugly game on both sides for a good portion of the game, but ultimately Wake Forest figured out a way to get it done on its home court.

Illinois started hot from behind the arc knocking down five out of its first six threes until Wake Forest switched to a hybrid 2-3/3-2 matchup zone that got Brad Underwood’s squad all out of whack.

The Illini would miss its next 10 three-pointers and ultimately wind up shooting 12-29 (41%) from behind the arc, but it felt like a much better defensive effort from the Deacs overall.

The Deacs were led by a gutsy performance by junior guard Bryant Crawford, who jammed/dislocated either his pinky or ring finger on his left hand after a steal and a three-pointer early in the second half. He would come back out to finish with 20 points, 4 assists, and 4 steals on the night on just ten shots.

Junior center Doral Moore broke the all-time consecutive field goals made record at Wake Forest when he started 4-4 on the night to push his streak to 16 straight field goals made over the past few games. He finished with 12 points (6-7) and 6 rebounds, serving as the rim protector in the middle of the 2-3 baseline.

The Fighting Illini were led by Aaron Jordan, who scored 20 points and shot 4-6 from behind the arc. He also chipped in 5 rebounds.

Even though the final three-point numbers may not look good in the box score, the zone defense looked very good for much of the night. The players were communicating, shifting, deflecting passes, and best of all, didn’t have to chase anybody around screens to prevent deep balls from going up.

Illinois looked befuddled by the zone and could very rarely get the ball where it needed to go to attack the zone effectively. This resulted in 29 three-point attempts of the 62 total field goals (47% 3PA/FGA), which is much higher than its season average coming into the game.

The zone basically took away what the Illini do well on the year—-get up and down the court, slash to the basket, and get to the foul line. The Deacs outshot Illinois 31 to 13 from the foul line, making 24/31.

This was an excellent coaching decision by the staff and I believe was instrumental in winning the ballgame for the Deacs.

The game got tight late, with Illinois pulling within three points twice in the final two minutes, but both times the Deacs responded with authority.

Wake was up 73-70 after an Aaron Jordan three-pointer with 2:12 remaining, and drew up a beautiful play out of a timeout to beat the defensive zone of Illinois. Crawford drove to the key, drew several defenders, and kicked to Keyshawn Woods who knocked down the corner three to push the lead to 6 with 1:48 remaining.

Da’Monte Williams responded with yet another three for Illinois, but once again the Deacs came back with an answer as Brandon Childress split a double team at the top of the point, got to the basket, and drew the foul to grab one of two free throws and push the lead to 4 points with just over a minute left.

The next defensive possession essentially clinched the game for the Deacs, as Crawford stole the ball at half court, before Illinois recovered it with 15 seconds left on the shot clock, but another turnover inside by Kipper Nichols secured the ball for Wake to maintain the 4 point lead.

After another 1 out of 2 effort from the line to push the lead to 78-73 from Mitchell Wilbekin, freshman Olivier Sarr come up with a HUGE denial at the rim on DA GOD MARK SMITH, and the Deacs got a runout to Doral Moore, who slammed it with authority to cap off the 80-73 victory.

Also, while it may be a bit difficult to tell, Illinois did get in a bit of a cheap shot on Childress on the final play of the game. It will be interesting to hear the comments and see if anything comes of it.

We will have much more on this victory this week, but man does this feel sweet. In addition to the win for Wake, it also gets another point for the ACC in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge to push the lead to 6-1 headed into the final night tomorrow. The ACC needs just 8 points to win the Challenge.

Also, as much as we heard about the 91-73 victory for the Illini over the Deacs in 2004 you better believe I will bring this victory up until at least 2030.

Wake will take the court next on Saturday when it hosts Richmond at 4 PM in Winston-Salem. Illinois will fold its program because DA GOD MARK SMITH shamed its entire program with his rejection at the hands of Olivier Sarr in the waning seconds with the game on the line.

Go Deacs!!!