What. A. Game. The Deacs took down the 7th ranked Duke Blue Devils on Tuesday night by a score of 113-101. The double overtime thriller gave Head Coach Danny Manning his 1st win against the Blue Devils. If I told you that Brandon Childress was 0-10 with 1 point and 3 turnovers with under a minute left in the game, you’d probably assume the Deacs were getting blown out on their way to another 30+ point loss to Duke. That, however, was not the case, as the Deacs trailed by just 3 points when Childress made his 1st field goal—a 3-poiner to tie the game—of the night. So while the late game heroics from Childress are getting some much deserved attention, it was Chaundee Brown and Olivier Sarr, who combined for 49 points on 71% shooting, that kept the game close enough for Wake to make a late game push to force overtime and ultimately win the game. And how did they do that? With everyone’s favorite Danny Manning talking point: paint touches.
Manning has been talking about getting paint touches ad nauseam for seemingly 3 straight years, but it felt like this was the first game where the Deacs truly made getting the ball into the paint a priority for the entirety of the game. Olivier Sarr absolutely dominated whoever the Blue Devils tried to defend him with. It didn’t matter if it was Matthew Hurt, Justin Robinson, Javin DeLaurier, or Vernon Carey Jr.—Sarr gave them all buckets on the way to 25 points on 7-9 shooting. On top of that, he basically single-handedly fouled out 3 of the 4 guys listed above and shot 11-14 from the free throw line.
Even when Duke brought 2 guys to defend Sarr in the paint, he was still able to get to the free throw line or score.
And let’s not forget that he scored 5 of the final 10 Wake points in regulation, which of course allowed Childress to get the game into overtime a pull off the upset.
Sarr has definitely made a case for being the ACC’s most improved player this season with his development into a major scoring threat in the post. He has improved his averages to 12.9 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, which is significantly higher than his 6.2 points and 5.5 rebounds per game a season ago. In the advanced stats department, his offensive rating has improved from 103.6 to 119.1, his defensive rating has dropped from 108.1 to 98.8 and his PER has risen from 14.5 to 25.1 as compared to last season. That’s quite the improvement.
While Sarr was a large part of the offense, getting him the ball in the post wasn’t the only way the Deacs got those coveted paint touches. The rest of the team also did a really good job attacking the paint and not settling for mid-range jump shots, which, you may have noticed, has been my biggest issue with the offense under Danny Manning in the past.
Several times, the Deacs had decent looks from beyond the arc, but elected instead to drive the ball to the basket and get a paint touch. As a result, Wake shot just 11 3-pointers during the entire 50 minute game, but went to the free throw line a whopping 50 times, which hopefully was enough to satisfy Manning’s desire to get to the free throw line because I don’t think Wake will be able to sustain that rate going forward.
In the play above, Chaundee Brown passes up a wide open 3-point attempt in favor of taking the ball to the basket, and he ends up with a wide open layup. If you do a deep dive into the advanced statistics of college basketball, you will find that a wide open layup is a pretty high percentage shot. Speaking of Chaundee Brown, he had a very good game and continues to be matchup problem for teams due to his unique combination of strength and speed. Brown finished with 24 points on 8-12 shooting.
Long story short, the Deacs finally got all those paint touches that Danny Manning has wanted all season. If you look at the shot chart from the game, there is a really nice, dense blob of shots right underneath the basket. More importantly, however, is that there aren’t very many shots in the area between the 3-point line and the paint, A.K.A. the contested mid-range jumper area that has seemingly been Wake’s favorite place to shoot over the last several years and is home to some of the lowest percentage shots in basketball.
Sure, Wake was down much of the 2nd half. They needed some luck and some Duke mistakes down the stretch to even have a chance to get the game into overtime. But, they were able to keep the game within striking distance by getting the ball into the paint and taking high percentage shots consistently for the entire game. Without that, no amount of luck or Duke mishaps would have mattered.
So does this mean Wake is finally starting to turn a corner? On the one hand, the Deacs did beat a top 10 team. On the other, it’s the end of February and Wake has won just 5 ACC games. The Deacs haven’t won back to back ACC games since the 2016-17 season, so the Notre Dame game may offer a better answer to that question than this game did. If Wake comes out on Saturday and reverts back to the same old same old, I think we will have our answer. However, if they can beat the Irish at home and then maybe 1 of the 2 remaining games on the schedule, that question may become more difficult to answer.