The Wake Forest Demon Deacons just played in the program’s biggest game in 7 years and they came away victorious. The Demon Deacons knocked off the #8 Louisville Cardinals on Senior Night to improve to 17-12 overall, including 8-9 in ACC play, and is still very much alive for an NCAA Tournament bid. The Deacs had been searching for that elusive signature win, and tonight they got it in the form of an 88-81 victory over Louisville. What a beautiful night to be a Wake Forest fan.
The game began with such anticiption, but the air was quickly taken out of the Lawrence Joel Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum, as the Cardinals jumped out to an early lead, and were up by as many as 14 points in the first half. Ken Pom gave Wake Forest just an 8% chance to win at that point in the game. The Cardinals were shooting as well as 70% from the field midway through the first half, and even ended up shooting 57% in the first half. Still, thanks to a balanced offensive effort, including two threes by Mitchell Wilbekin, and much better defense, the Deacons crawled all the way back to trail by just a single point at the half.
Louisville began the second half by scoring a bucket, but then Wake Forest ripped off a 7-0 run that caused Rick Pitino to take a timeout. The Demon Deacons trailed for essentially the entire first half, but never reliquinshed the lead once they got off to a strong start in the second half.
The Demon Deacons, who were down by 14 points in the first half, led by as many as 11 points in the second half. They outscored Louisville by 25 points over 20 minutes of the game. Simply remarkable. They built that lead by getting to the free throw line and also knocking down perimeter shots. John Collins, I can’t believe it has taken me this long to mention him, was outstanding. He finished with 25 points on 7 of 12 field goals, and made 11 of 12 free throws, while hauling in 11 rebounds and blocking 2 shots. He did this against the 5th best defensive team in the country. Wake Forest scored 88 points against the 5th best defensive team in the country, and now has the 8th best offense in the country. They are for real.
Louisville cut the lead to just 3 points with 4:35 remaining, and the entire Wake Forest fan base was thinking, ‘here we go again.’ After trading baskets and then turnovers, the Deacs had the ball with 3:23 remaining coming out of the final television timeout. The next minute was bliss. Dinos Mitoglou drained a three to put Wake up six. Wake then came up with a stop, and Mitchell Wilbekin drained one from close to NBA range as the shot clock was nearing expiration to put Wake up nine points, and caused Rick Pitino to take a timeout. The Deacs were able to get one last stop, and from there on out it was a matter of making free throws and limiting turnovers, both of which Wake Forest is very good at. In the end, the final buzzer sounded and the scoreboard read Wake Forest 88, Louisville 81. The students rushed the court and gave a new meaning to Wake Wednesday.
The Deacs needed to protect the ball tonight, and they did just that. Only turning it over 9 times against Louisville is an impressive feat. Louisville causes so many problems with their length, but Wake was fairly patient and precise with the passes. They had a week to prepare, and it showed. There were times where to were lucky not to turn it over, but I won’t complain after this one.
This win was absolutely massive for Wake Forest, as the biggest knock on the team’s NCAA Tournament resume was the lack of a high profile win. Beating the #8 team in the country certainly qualifies as that. They had come so close so many times, most notably Duke at home, but were not able to finish it. On Wednesday evening, the Deacs finished. This is also a big boost for Wake’s ACC Tournament seeding, as it’s now fairly likely that they’ll earn the 10 seed.
Wake Forest will conclude regular season ACC play on Saturday when they travel to Blacksburg to take on the Virginia Tech Hokies. We will have plenty of coverage of that game and potential ACC Tournament scenarios here at Blogger So Dear.