Wake Forest (8-11, 1-6) might have hung around a bit longer than many of its fans thought it would, but at the end of the night it was just another loss, this time to the No. 2 Virginia Cavaliers (18-1, 7-0) by a final score of 59-49.
The Demon Deacons went into the half with a 24-22 lead after limiting the Cavaliers to just five points over the final ten minutes of the half. It was the best team defensive effort and execution that I have seen all year, and a lot of that had to do with the play of sophomore power forward Donovan Mitchell.
His skillset, along with Olivier Sarr at the five, allowed Wake Forest to switch everything defensively, which covered up the biggest deficiency on the defensive side of the ball—-pick and roll defense.
In the second half Mitchell got just five minutes as Coach Manning once again chose to rely heavily on the three and four guard lineup to take us to the promised land.
One other bright spot is that Chaundee Brown got 20 minutes of playing time, which was a nice change of pace from his relegation to the bench for much of ACC play.
These minutes were seemingly taken directly from Keyshawn Woods, who was off all night, and perhaps is still dealing with an injury. Woods finished with no points on three shots, while Brown had 4 points and 3 rebounds on four shots.
Virginia was led in scoring by sophomore Kyle Guy with 17 points, but the player of the game had to be freshman forward De’Andre Hunter, who finished with 16 points on 11 shots and torched the Deacs down the stretch.
Wake Forest was led by Bryant Crawford with 11 points on 12 shots, but Doral Moore had the most efficient game for the Deacs, pulling down 13 rebounds and 9 points on just 5 shots. This was a tough game for Moore given the defense of Virginia, but once again it was a frustrating experience to watch the guards fail to get the ball to Moore outside of missed shots.
Moore also chipped in three blocks to go with his other stats for a very solid all-around night.
It has become increasingly clear to me that Wake Forest is much more successful when it has length on the court at the 3-5 positions, and that means running a standard two guard lineup.
When Brown, Mitchell, Sarr/Moore are on the court (or even Sarr at the four with Moore), the Deacs are a much better defensive team, and on nights where Woods or Crawford are both off offensively there is not even that much of a drop-off on the offensive side.
We will have an article coming later this week that statistically frames these ideas and shows that they are not simply anecdotal thoughts from myself.
The final part of the game in particular was quite frustrating from Crawford, who on back-to-back possessions fouled a 93% foul shooter, took two horribly contested shots, and then bricked a wide open layup as the game was winding down. This is the latest example of isolation and hero-ball that has plagued Wake Forest and its back court throughout the season.
I was happy to see the defense that Wake played in the first half, but was also baffled by the fact that we have barely seen that type of intensity and effort all season. It also waned as the game went on and the team fell back into its normal sagging defense off the ball, which allowed UVA a lot of wide open shots in the final ten minutes.
Wake Forest will have a quick turnaround when it welcomes No. 5 Duke to Winston-Salem tomorrow night at 9 PM on the ACC Network.