WINSTON-SALEM, NC – With just over seven minutes remaining in the first half, Wake Forest trailed Elon 36-15 and seemed on its way to a backbreaking season-opening loss. In the final 27 minutes, the Deacons outscored the Phoenix 86-42 and coasted to a 101-78 victory.
Wake Forest whittled Elon’s once 21-point lead to 12 at halftime. Despite a frustrating first 20 minutes, head coach Steve Forbes’ speech in the locker room was “not as crazy as you would imagine.”
“I was animated,” Forbes said. “The message was real simple. Quit turning the ball over, be more physical at the point of attack on the ball screen and get your ass back on defense. Keep them in front of you…it’s not always complicated, especially with these guys. They’re smart. They know how to play. Just gotta go out and do it.”
The first half was defined by Elon’s ability to prolifically score, to the tune of 64% from the field and an astounding 9-14 from behind the three-point line. While the shooting was impressive, Forbes noted that Wake Forest played a hand in it. Transition defense was a struggle, and the team often did not apply enough pressure on shots.
“I thought Elon came out tonight and just punched us in the mouth,” he said. “Played harder, played more aggressive. [They] were the tougher team, basically just whipped us in the first half. The way we played in the first half, it’s just not acceptable. It’s gross. And where we want to go and where we want to be, can’t do it.”
With the game tied at 11 at the 14-minute mark, Elon embarked on a 25-4 run to reach its largest advantage of the game at 21.
“We definitely don’t enjoy going down, that’s for sure,” forward Andrew Carr said. “Not a great recipe to win games, especially a tough schedule that we have.”
But in the second half, Wake Forest toughened up significantly on the defensive end. The Phoenix made just 26% of its shots from the field and were 1-9 from deep.
Additionally, Wake Forest maintained its offensive output, shooting 60%, but cut down heavily on turnovers, from eight in the first half to three in the second.
“I think a lot of it’s just effort…” Forbes said. “They didn’t have the urgency that is needed to play a division one basketball game in the first half…I gotta figure it out, though, because you can’t do that.”
In the first four minutes of the second half, Wake Forest outscored Elon 15-5. Carr furthered the comeback with an offensive rebound, finishing off the play with an and-one. A Cameron Hildreth jumper gave the Deacs its first lead with 13:55 remaining, one they wouldn’t relinquish for the rest of the game.
Hildreth finished with a career-high 33 points, hitting 13 of his 18 shots, grabbing six rebounds and forcing two steals.
“It starts with [Hildreth] leading,” Carr said. “Even in the locker room, he was fired up trying to get us to rally. He does a great job of that and he leads by example…He does the dirty work and plays really tough defensively.”
“Cam’s one of the hardest playing kids in college basketball,” Forbes later added. “Let’s be honest here. He plays both ends. He don’t just go down and score now. He plays defense too.”
Carr himself put together a spectacular performance, one that Forbes called “one of the best he’s played here.”
Of Carr’s 24 total points, 20 came in the second half. The senior was a perfect 6-6 from the field in the final 20 minutes, while also recording seven rebounds and three blocks. Carr’s performance on the boards was a microcosm of Wake Forest’s — the Deacs outrebounded Elon 24-8 in the second half, seven of which were on offense.
After playing 12 minutes in the first half, starting center Matthew Marsh was taken out just a few plays into the second. He did not return for the rest of the game. Zach Keller also saw three minutes at the five, all in the first half. From the 17-minute mark onward, Carr took over the center position.
“We had to,” Forbes said. “They weren’t a very big team, stretched [us] out a little bit. It’s not always gonna be that way.”
“It wasn’t Matt’s night. He didn’t do anything terribly wrong. [Carr] was a better matchup for us…We had to adjust.”
With the small lineup, Forbes relied on two of his freshmen for high-volume, valuable minutes. Marqus Marion played 28 of a possible 40, with Parker Friedrichsen adding 24. Though Marion didn’t register a point, he was vital to the victory.
“This is called winning,” Forbes said. “In 28 minutes, he was plus-26. He makes winning plays. He’s a really good defender.”
Friedrichsen accounted for all eight of Wake Forest’s points off the bench, including two knock-down threes.
Transfer guard Boopie Miller scored 17 points, but started slowly. In the second half, he found his game, notching 13 of the 17.
“[Forbes] got on us about bringing the energy and I think that definitely starts with the point guard,” Miller said. “I’ll put that on my back.”
Hunter Sallis battled a sprained ankle for the most of the game, per Forbes, but was able to score 19 points. He was subbed out with 9:44 remaining and did not return.
Also missing from the game was fellow Gonzaga transfer Efton Reid. Forbes confirmed that just days after the ACC Tipoff, Reid’s waiver to play as a second-time transfer was denied by the NCAA. Wake Forest will now await final word on appeal.
Following a game that required significant turnaround, Wake Forest will not have much time to do so in preparation for a power-five matchup with Georgia. The Deacs travel to Athens for a Friday night game against the Bulldogs. Tip off is set for 7pm on the SEC Network.