The Wake Forest Men’s Basketball Team improved to 7-1 tonight after an impressive road win over a pretty darn good Wisconsin team. Wake finished the game shooting 53% from the floor and 33% from beyond the arc against a Wisconsin defense that has been very good this year.
The Badgers came into tonight’s game ranked 11th in the nation in defense per KenPom, having only allowed more than 60 points one time this season. That didn’t seem to intimidate the Deacs at all, as Wake came out firing on all cylinders—at the under 16-minute timeout, Wake already had 15 points. The Deacs made 9 straight field goals in the early goings to take a 21-16 lead.
While the offense was clicking, the defense for Wake Forest struggled with slowing down the Badgers in the low post. It was pretty obvious that Wisconsin’s plan for the game was to isolate Stephen Crowl or Tyler Wahl on the low block and let them go to work. Zach Keller got the start at the 5 for Wake, but it was clear after a few possessions that he was sort of overmatched against Crowl. Keller was replaced by the bigger Matthew Marsh, who went on to play most of the half. Wahl and Crowl combined for 14 points in the first half.
The offensive shootout quickly turned into a defensive battle as both teams went completely cold—a combined 3-21—shooting the ball. Wisconsin failed to score for almost 7 minutes while the Deacs went 11 straight possessions without making a basket. The Deacs led by 6 before a Chucky Hepburn half-court shot at the buzzer cut the lead in half, giving Wake a 37-34 lead at the break.
Within 2 minutes of the second half starting, Matthew Marsh and Davion Bradford had picked up their 3rd and 4th foul respectively, bringing freshman Zach Keller back into the game. The Badgers immediately tried to take advantage of the mismatch, going right back to attacking the low block. Between some hot shooting from Hepburn, who was 5-6 from the 3-point line at one point in the 2nd half, and Wahl attacking the paint, Wisconsin went on a 10-2 run to take a 48-47 lead with 11 minutes remaining in the game. Hepburn was seemingly making everything he threw at the goal tonight, including that half-court shot and a desperation heave not even facing the basket at the end of the shot clock, which thankfully ended up not counting.
Hepburn’s hot shooting was contagious, as Crowl hit a couple of 3-pointers from the top of the key and Connor Essegian threw a 3-pointer in off the backboard. Those shots gave the Badgers a 52-57 lead, their largest of the night.
Tyree Appleby caught whatever it was Wisconsin had, because he suddenly could not miss from beyond the arc. The Florida transfer hit 3 3-pointers over the next 2 minutes to keep Wake within 2 points. Appleby gave everything he had in this game, single handedly keeping Wake in it with 32 points. If it wasn’t obvious before tonight, Steve Forbes has definitely found another star guard in the transfer portal.
Between the foul disparity (Wisconsin was in the bonus before they committed their 2nd foul) and the Badgers just not missing, the Deacs struggled to make up ground until Damari Monsanto got a steal and hit a 3-pointer, followed by making a turnaround jumper on the next possession to put Wake back in front 72-71 with 90 seconds remaining. After a couple of free throws by the Badgers, Cam Hildreth got Wake back in front with a floater with 30 seconds left in the game. Needing just 1 stop to take control, Tyler Wahl’s shot attempt missed and the Deacs got the ball back on a lengthy out of bounds review.
Appleby hit 2 huge free throws to give Wake a 3-point lead with 12 seconds remaining. After what happened at the end of the Loyola Marymount game, Forbes decided to foul up three and not let the Badgers even have an attempt at the tie. Both teams traded a pair of free throws, and Wake’s lead remained at 3 with 9 seconds to go. Chucky Hepburn threw up a shot from about 40 feet—clearly thinking he was going to get fouled again—and for what seemed like the first time tonight, one of his crazy shots actually missed, giving Wake Forest the win.
That was just a great, entertaining, back-and-forth game between two really good teams. Appleby was the best player on the court tonight, scoring 32 points on 11-16 shooting and adding 5 assists. Hildreth added 7 rebounds and 15 points, including 2 huge free throws to push the lead back up to 2 with 9 seconds remaining. Monsanto was the only other Deac to hit double figures with 13 points on 5-13 shooting.
The big guys not named Matthew Marsh really struggled tonight against the Wisconsin bigs. Keller, Carr, and Bradford combined for just 7 points and 7 rebounds in 31 combined minutes. Thankfully, Marsh added 8 points and 9 rebounds and really held his own against some talented post players to help Wake come away with the victory. He has really played well since the Jamaica classic, which is good news because the Deacs are going to need his size to compete in the ACC.
What a game! What a win! The Deacs are starting to look like they can really make some noise this season.