Wake Forest’s season has come to a close. The Wake Forest Demon Deacons (19-14) dropped the First Four matchup against the Kansas State Wildcats (21-13). Wake Forest got things going offensively in the second half, but simply could not stop Kansas State, as the Wildcats shot 66% from the field. What were the key takeaways in this one?
Kansas State shot 63% from the field in the first half compared to Wake Forest’s 36%, but Wake Forest trailed by just 4 points at halftime because the Deacons shot 17 of 18 from the foul line. The Deacons seemed tentative on offense, and couldn’t quite get the ball moving side to side. Kansas State did extend pressure, and that meant it took Wake longer to get into their sets. By the time they did, they were fighting the shot clock and forced to take lower percentage shots. Both teams were very sloppy in the first half, as Wake Forest had 9 turnovers, while Kansas State had 10. Wake Forest finished with just 11 for the game, while Kansas State finished with 15.
Kansas State initially blew it open in the second half and quickly got up nine points. Wake Forest, as they have all year, continued to show fight. So many times throughout the second half the Deacs got it to one possession, whether it be two or three points, but could never get the game tied. I felt that if Wake could tie the game, then they’d find a way to pull ahead and win the game, but they just never made enough stops. The times they did make initial stops, Kansas State would get one of their 7 offensive rebounds. Overall, Kansas State won the rebounding battle by 8.
It appeared that every time Wake got that close, that Kansas State’s Kamau Stokes would hit a big three. The sophomore guard was shooting just 36% on the season, so naturally he hit 5 out of 8 (62.5%) against Wake. There wasn’t always the best defense on him, but a number of times, especially in the second half, he just made big shots. Wesley Iwundu, who we were concerned about from a matchup standpoint, scored a career-high 24 points, and also had 6 rebounds to go along with 6 assists. D.J. Johnson also got his own on the interior due to some really poor interior defense. Johnson made 8 of 9 field goals for 18 points, and many of those were fairly uncontested layups. Overall, Kansas State made 25/31 2-point field goals (81%), that’s simply not winning basketball. I don’t care how often a team gets to the foul line, that’s not winning basketball. Defense absolutely has to be a point of emphasis for this program to take another step forward.
Wake Forest found themselves down 5 points with 1:43 to go. What happened next defied explanation and was a truly horrific call. Crawford was on the floor after getting shoved, and in a bit of frustration he tried to steal the ball while he was on the ground. He damn near did, but fouled Kamaru Stokes in the process. What did the refs call? A flagrant one despite him maybe even touching the ball in the process. Would Wake have one at that point? Probably not, but instead of just two free throws, it gave Kansas State to shots and the ball. The call didn’t go Wake’s way, and it was academic from there.
John Collins struggled to get going offensively in the first half, but did finish with 26 points and 9 rebounds. Bryant Crawford wasn’t perfect, but the sophomore point guard finished with 20 points, 9 assists, and 4 rebounds, while Austin Arians scored 17. Unfortunately, not one else scored more than 7. Defense was clearly an issue, but it doesn’t help when Dinos Mitoglou and Keyshawn Woods combine to go 1 for 10 from beyond the arc.
Congratulations to Kansas State for winning the game. They are clearly a good team, as is Wake Forest. I believe that both of these teams demonstrated that they deserved better than having to play one another. In my opinion, and in the opinion of every relevant advanced metric, both of these teams are better than both USC and Providence.
Was tonight tough? There’s no question, but had you told me that we’d make the tournament after where we finished last year, I would have taken that every time. We will now play the waiting game to see what happens with early NBA Draft entrants.
I thank you all for following us throughout the season. It has been a fun ride. We will have a bit more coverage of this game, and then will wrap up the season with some thoughts on individual players as well as the program at large. It had been seven years since our last NCAA Tournament appearance, but it won’t take another seven before we get back. Go Deacs.