Well, that was another frustrating loss. The Deacs shot 51% from the floor, made 10 3-pointers, turned the ball over just 7 times, and outscored Pitt in the paint 19-7, but still couldn’t come away with the win because the Panthers just refused to miss from beyond the arc. Once again, Wake Forest was right there at the end game, but the Deacs just couldn’t put together enough stops to regain the lead for any significant amount of time and ultimately fell to Pitt 79-81 for their second straight loss. The Deacs move to 14-7 overall and 6-4 in the ACC, dropping down to 6th place in the conference.
This one started off like a repeat of the Virginia game. The Panthers didn’t hit 7 3-pointers in a row, but they did make 6 of their first 8 attempts from beyond the arc to open the game with an 18-10 lead. Pitt was playing 4 out and using ball screens to attack the paint and kick out to open shooters when the defense collapsed, and Wake really struggled to stop it. When the Deacs couldn’t find a way to defend all the shooters Pitt had spread around the court, Forbes—perhaps unhappy with the effort he was seeing—went to some pretty peculiar lineups with Appleby on the bench and Zach Keller, who hadn’t played meaningful minutes since the Rutgers game, at center.
Wake was able to keep things relatively close for a while, but by the end of the first half, they found themselves down 49-39. After 20 minutes, Pitt had made 10 3-pointers, assisted on 14 of their 16 field goals, and turned the ball over just 3 times—I would say that’s pretty close to a perfect half. I know the Deacs could do a better job on defense, but it’s really starting to feel like teams just simply can’t miss when they play Wake. For reference, in ACC play so far this season, the Panthers were averaging 8.3 3-point makes *per game*. The trio of Blake Hinson, Nelly Cummins, and Greg Elliot scored a combined 32 points for Pitt in the first half and shot 66% from beyond the arc.
Thankfully, the hot 3-point shooting for the Panthers slowed down to start the second half. Wake went to a 1-3-1 early in the half and it seemed to help the Deacs do a much better job stopping Pitt from driving into the paint and kicking out to shooters. On the other side, the Deacs just kept doing what they’ve been doing all season—scoring efficiently. Through the first 10 minutes of the second half, the Deacs were shooting around 60% from the floor and had cut the Pitt lead down to 4 points.
Much like the previous game, every time Wake got closer than about 4 points, the Panthers would answer with another 3-pointer to push the lead back out. With 11 minutes to go, the Deacs cut the lead to 2 before Nike Sibande hit a 3 on the next possession. A little under 3 minutes later, Wake cut the lead down to 3 before Hinson immediately answered with a 3-pointer. Daivien Williamson hit a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession, so of course Hinson had to come right back down and make another one.
Finally, with 4:30 remaining in the 2nd half, Wake was able to regain the lead 74-73. The lead was short lived, as, right on cue, Pitt hit back-to-back 3-pointers to regain a 5-point lead. I don’t even know what to say about it at this point—it’s starting to become almost comical how many times this keeps happening to the Deacs. Wake struggles and struggles to fight back and the second they finally get close, the opponent makes a couple of 3’s and the Deacs are right back where they started.
Credit Wake for staying locked in despite those unfortunate circumstances. With under a minute to go in the game, the Deacs had cut the lead down to 2 points. After Cam Hildreth missed back-to-back free throws with just over 35 seconds to go in the game, the Deacs came up with a huge defensive stop, forcing a shot clock violation to get the ball back with 6 seconds remaining while trailing by just 2 points. Tyree Appleby went for the win and fired off a 3-pointer at the buzzer, but it wouldn’t drop, giving Pitt the win.
I don’t know if there is anyway to have a more frustrating 2 game stretch than what Wake has had in the past week. After Virginia shot lights out from beyond the arc against the Deacs on Saturday, Pitt came out and made a program record 18 3-pointers on 49% shooting from beyond the arc. Hinson and Elliot combined to score 42 points for the Panthers on 14-23 shooting from 3, and neither player even attempted a 2-point shot. It’s tough to win games when a team has 2 players shooting that well from beyond the arc.
Despite the 18 3-pointers, Wake had a chance to win this game and kind of threw it away by going 11-18 from the free throw line, including 3 misses in the final 2 minutes. If the Deacs make those free throws, we likely have a completely different outlook on the result of this game.
Things aren’t getting any easier for Wake in the immediate future, as the Deacs play a tough NC State team at home on Saturday and then head to Cameron Indoor to try to beat Duke on the road for the first time in something like 26 years. If Wake wants any chance at coming away with a win in one or both of those games, they are going to have to find a way to defend the perimeter and stop the opponent from shooting above 40% from beyond the arc. It would also help if someone had an off night every once and a while.
On to the next.