WINSTON-SALEM, NC – Down five scholarship players and trailing by 13 points at halftime, Wake Forest turned a matchup with Alabama — the preseason No. 10 KenPom team in the nation — on its head, out-scoring the Tide by 21 in the second half for an 88-80 exhibition victory.
The Demon Deacons’ guard duo of Cam Hildreth (10-18) and Gonzaga transfer Hunter Sallis (11-20) combined for 65 points.
“I just let the game come to me,” Hildreth said. “I didn’t force anything. We have offenses that we run and I was getting good looks, just trying to play aggressive.”
“I felt good,” Sallis added. “Coming into it, I was really excited. Through all of our scrimmages and practices, I’ve been really aggressive. I was just putting in all the work, so it really came to fruition.”
Though not counted on the stat-sheet due to the exhibition nature of the game, Hildreth’s 38-point performance far exceeds his career high of 23 last season against Florida State.
“Cam, I told you Cam’s gotten a lot better,” head coach Steve Forbes said. “His jump shot is not the same jump shot when he came here two years ago. He plays with a lot of confidence. He plays really hard.”
A 21-18 first nine minutes from the Deacons was later overshadowed by a 10-0 Alabama run, highlighted by turnover woes and errors on the offensive glass. The Deacons gave up the ball 11 times in the first 20 minutes, with Alabama scoring 19 points off them. The Tide also nabbed eight offensive rebounds.
Alabama shot in front with the additional aid of three-point shooting — at one point, the Tide were 5-7 from deep, finishing the half 8-14.
Wake Forest returned the favor of a back-breaking scoring stretch to open the second half, going on a 21-3 run in the first five minutes. Two three-pointers by freshman Parker Friedrichsen helped spark the Deacs during the scoring fest.
“Parker had some big moments in the second half…” Forbes said. “He’s got confidence. He’s had some practices like that where he didn’t make a shot for a while, but he keeps going. He’s got a short memory. And that’s really important when you have confidence as a shooter.”
Friedrichsen and fellow freshman Marqus Marion both featured in small lineups for Wake Forest with forward Andrew Carr at the five. Forbes confirmed that that set would be something the Deacs run periodically this season.
Carr scored eight points, but shined on the defensive end, amassing 10 rebounds and four blocks.
In the second half, Wake Forest found the answer to many of its problems from Alabama’s late first-half heater. The Deacs turned the ball over just three times, pulled down seven offensive boards and 18 on the defensive glass.
“It was a game, a tale of two halves,” Forbes said. “It wasn’t real complicated. At halftime, it was real simple. We got to quit giving up offensive rebounds when they miss and we got to quit turning it over. And we got to guard the ball a little bit better.”
“I feel like that just came with energy,” Sallis noted. “We looked like a totally different team…we stuck together.”
Forbes observed the team taking it upon itself to fix some struggles in the locker room at the half.
“One of the things [strength coach] Mike Starke said to us after the game — he goes to the locker room with the players [earlier than the coaches] — he says the most mature group of players we’ve ever had when it comes to talking through their issues and what they needed to fix before we even came in there.”
Wake Forest also found its defensive footing in the second half, allowing just 28 points in comparison to 52 in the first. Alabama was 1-10 from deep in the half and turned the ball over eight times.
“We kept the ball in front of us in the second half,” Forbes said. “Made them shoot tougher shots. We rebounded, we didn’t give them those easy putbacks. We’ve improved a lot in two weeks in defensive transition. Alabama is one of the best teams in the country in transition, and we gave up less points in transition to them than we did to Georgetown.”
In their combined scoring effort, Hildreth played 36 minutes, while Sallis never left the floor, leaving him “tired.”
“We prepared well in the preseason,” Hildreth said. “Starke got us right with conditioning. If we have to play the minutes, we have to play to help the team win. We’re prepared to do that.”
Wake Forest was left to face the Tide with just eight dressed scholarship players — Boopie Miller and Abramo Canka were out with short-term injuries and should be back in time for tipoff of the regular season. Jao Ituka and Damari Monsanto are out with long-term injuries, while Efton Reid awaits a decision from the NCAA on a two-time transfer waiver.
Tipoff for the 2023-24 season-opener against Elon is set for 8pm on ACCNX.