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Playbook: Olivier Sarr Lifts Wake Forest by Notre Dame

A career day for the Frenchman gives Wake Forest the win

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

For the first time in the last 3 years, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons have an ACC winning streak. The Deacs won their second ACC game in a row on Saturday, beating the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 84-73 in their final home game of the 2019-20 season. It was the first time Wake Forest has won back to back ACC games by double digits since the 2009-10 season. Once again, the strategy for Wake Forest was simple: give the ball to Olivier Sarr and get out of the way. And once again, that strategy worked really, really well, as Sarr finished with 30 points on 75% shooting and 17 rebounds, joining John Collins and Rodney Rogers as the only 3 players in Wake Forest history with a 30 point, 15 rebound double-double.

Perhaps the Deacons have finally started to turn a corner, because instead of reverting back to their old ways of dribbling the ball to death and taking contested jump shots, they appear to have figured out that getting the ball to Sarr in the posts (aka a paint touch) is an extremely effective way to score points. Case and point in the play below.

Andrien White feeds Sarr in the post to start the second half and he is quickly doubled teamed due to his 16 first half points. When Sarr kicks the ball back out, White simply waits for him to re-post and throws it right back inside, allowing Sarr to score another basket. That is exactly what it looks like when a team makes getting paint touches a priority.

The impact of getting the ball to Sarr inside cannot be overstated. At one point in the first half, the Deacs held a 16 point lead over the Fighting Irish. With a little over 8 minutes remaining in the game, Notre Dame had taken a 1 point lead on the wings of a 27-13 run. I’m sure you can probably guess what happened between those two events.

With 18:20 to go in the game, Olivier Sarr scored on the play above to give the Deacs a 45-32 lead. Between that basket and Notre Dame taking a 59-58 lead with 8:20 left in the game, Sarr shot the ball exactly 1 time—a missed jump shot at the 17:29 mark. Whether that was due to fatigue or foul trouble (Sarr did pick up 3 fouls in that time span), it shouldn’t be a surprise that Notre Dame was able to catch up and take the lead after a near 10 minute stretch where Sarr was not the focus of the offense. Coincidentally, after the Irish took said lead, Wake Forest went right back inside to Sarr, and he scored yet again.

From that moment, Sarr went on to score 8 more points on 3-4 shooting, helping the Deacs push the lead back up to 7 points before Notre Dame started fouling. So just to recap: get the ball to Sarr, build a huge lead; don’t get the ball to Sarr, lose the huge lead; get the ball back to Sarr, build the lead again. Seems pretty obvious what the Deacs should do in the last few games in order to have a chance to win.

With 55 points and 22 rebounds over the past 2 games, Sarr has really started to make his way as one of the dominant big men in the ACC. I’m sure we’ll all be speculating about his draft stock and whether he will leave early for the NBA draft or return for his senior year in approximately two week’s time.

Hopefully he’ll stick around for another year. Until then, lets hope he can lead the Deacs to another couple of wins over those other schools from North Carolina. Two more wins would put Wake Forest at 8-12 in the conference, which could vault the Deacs to 10th place before the ACC Tournament. Let’s finish strong.