It seems like Wake never makes things easy on themselves. While Wake never trailed and led this game for all but 13 seconds, the Deacs once again allowed a 20+ point lead to wither away and almost found a way to lose to a team with just 2 wins this season. The Cards got a close as 3 points in the final 3 minutes of the game, but Wake Forest was able to make just enough shots to hold on and get their first win on the road at Louisville.
This was basically a must win game, and the Deacs definitely came out of the gates treating it as such. Wake kicked off the game with a quick 8-0 run, assisting on 4 of their first 5 baskets. By the first media timeout, the Deacs were up 13-5 and had already made 3 of their 6 3-point attempts. Wake was moving the ball really well and getting some really great looks at the basket, while Louisville was turning the ball over and taking a lot of contested shots.
There was a stark contrast between the two defenses early. Through the first 10 minutes of the game, the Deacs held Louisville to 3-11 shooting from the floor, forced 2 shot clock violations, and had 18 points off of 8 Louisville turnovers. Wake was doing a great job icing the Louisville ball screens and forcing the ball handler to go away from the screen, which was causing the Cards a lot of trouble on offense. On the other end, Louisville seemingly had no interest in defending the 3-point line, and Wake hit 5 of their first 9 3-point attempts.
With 9 minutes remaining in the first half, Kenny Payne was forced to call his second timeout as the Deacs took a commanding 27-7 lead on the back of a 14-0 run. During the run, Wake held Louisville without a basket for about 7 minutes. At this point, it looked like the Deacs were just going to blow this one out and coast to an easy win.
Some poor boxing out on defense and turnovers on the other end allowed Louisville to make a little run to cut into the lead. A 7-1 Cardinal run with around 5 minutes remaining in the half cut the Wake lead to 15 points and forced Steve Forbes to take a timeout. Wake got a little complacent with the big lead and stopped playing with urgency, and that allowed Louisville to get a little life back before the end of the half.
At the end of the first half, the Deacs had built a 43-26 lead largely due to shooting 9-20 from beyond the arc. Though they were hot from deep, it did seem like there were times in the half where Wake fell in love with the long ball and stopped trying to attack the basket. With Louisville shooting 37% from the floor and turning the ball over 10 times (to their 1 assist), Wake likely would have been up by 25+ points if not for allowing the Cards to have 9 offensive rebounds in the 1st half. Those boards resulted in 8 2nd chance points for Louisville, which was really the only thing keeping them in the game.
The second half started about the same way the first ended. The Deacs were shooting a few too many 3-pointers and giving up way too many offensive rebounds, which resulted in a 9-2 Louisville run to cut a 22-point lead back down to 15. By dominating the paint, Louisville was able to draw a lot of fouls on the Deacs quickly to get into the bonus before the under 12-minute timeout.
With 10 minutes remaining in the game, Tyree Appleby picked up his 4th foul, forcing him to head to the bench. If you’ve watched even 1 game this season, it’s pretty easy to see that Wake Forest is just a completely different team with Appleby on the court as opposed to one the bench—the Deacs score almost 22 more points per 100 possessions and shoot 8% higher from the floor with him on the court. By the time Appleby found his way back onto the court, Louisville had gone on a 10-4 run to cut the lead down to just 10 points with 6 minutes remaining in the game.
The run gave Louisville life, and all of a sudden, they couldn’t miss. The Cards made 5 shots in a row, including 3 3-pointers to pull within 67-62 at the under 4-minute timeout. The Deacs just let the Cards hang around for the whole half, and then they caught fire. That is why it’s best to just put bad teams away when you have the chance.
Mike James’s 4th 3-pointer of the half, part of a stretch where Louisville made 9 of 10 from the floor, cut the Wake Forest lead down to 3 points. James scored 15 of his game high 24 points in the second half and made 4 of his 6 3-point attempts. From the 14:50 mark to 2:40 remaining in the game, Wake was outscored 17-36 and saw their 22-point lead almost completely disappear.
With the Cards on the verge of tying things up, Damari Monsanto came up big for the Deacs—the redshirt junior answered back with 2 huge 3-pointers of his own to push the lead back to 9 points. Monsanto was fantastic for Wake today, scoring a team high 21 points on 8-16 shooting from the floor. Those 2 clutch 3-pointers basically sealed the victory for the Deacs, who held on to win 80-72.
Monsanto was not the only Deacon who played great today. Hildreth had a very efficient game with 19 points on 80% shooting from the floor and 8 rebounds. He had 11 points in the second half and was vital for the Deacs running the offense when Appleby was on the bench. Appleby continued to be the key to Wake’s success this year—the Florida transfer finished with 13 points on 50% shooting and added 8 assists. Wake really struggles to get good looks when he is not on the court.
A win is a win, but I don’t think any Wake Forest fans probably feel very good about that one. The Deacs had a 22-point lead at one point in the second half, and somehow found themselves on the verge of going to overtime or worse in a little over 10 minutes. It probably has to do with their reliance on 3-point shooting (almost 60% of shot attempts came from beyond the arc today), but it feels like this Wake Forest team just isn’t great at playing with a lead. At the end of the day, I’d still rather be up 20 than down 20.
With the win, Wake moves to 11-5 overall and 3-2 in the ACC. The next 2 games are probably must wins for the Deacs as well, as they take on Florida State and Boston College, who currently sit and 245 and 217 in the NET rankings respectively. A couple of wins could help vault Wake Forest into the upper tier of the ACC standings and, more importantly, keep any bad losses off of their resume.