WINSTON-SALEM, NC – The tone was set from the very start; Wake Forest had come to play. The Demon Deacons jumped out to a 14-4 lead in the first six minutes, extended to 15 five minutes later and held a 20-point advantage at halftime. From there, Wake Forest never looked back, nor faltered, dominating Virginia Tech 86-63 to open up ACC play.
“Steve’s team played better than my team,” Virginia Tech head coach Mike Young said.
In addition to it being Wake Forest’s first game of the 2023-24 conference season, it was the team’s first back from the often dreaded holiday break. But Steve Forbes’ squad returned with a purpose after being away for several days.
“This game was won on Dec. 26 at 7pm,” Forbes said. “[We] had the best practice I’ve ever had in 35 years coming back after some time off for Christmas. Normally, those practices are kind of sloppy, somebody’s late, somebody has travel problems. Everybody was in there at 7pm when the horn went off.
“[The team is] mature, they have good leadership. They’re determined to have a good team. I’m sure they were excited to play.”
Wake Forest’s domination was not just in the scoreline. The Deacs outperformed the Hokies in three-point percentage, free-throw percentage, turnovers, rebounds, points in the paint and several other statistics.
Virginia Tech finished the game with 19 turnovers, nine forced by Wake Forest steals. The Deacs’ physicality was present there, on the boards and on defense, including several stretches of full-court pressure. The Hokies’ points per possession was well under one at 0.67.
“They were a lot more physical than we were…” Young said. “They jacked us up.”
“I thought the pressure sped them up,” Forbes later added. “I thought it helped us not let them just walk it down and jam it down our throat every possession.”
At the foundation of a physical battle was perhaps Wake Forest’s most important assignment leading into the game — 6’10” center Lynn Kidd. The Deacs by no means completely neutralized him, but a 14-point scoring effort on 15 shots reflected the team’s commitment to at least compete with him down low, and the Deacs did more than just that.
“We just preached and preached and preached to the bigs, never out, never up on all those screens…because then you get behind the play…” Forbes said. “Our bigs did an incredible job of following the game plan.”
“Coming into the game, a big part of it was being paranoid on defense..” Carr noted. “Being aware and looking behind you, paranoid looking behind you. Being ready to see the action before it comes and beat him to his spot and force him out a little bit more.”
It was a tandem effort against Kidd for Wake Forest. Efton Reid could only give 20 minutes, heavily due to foul trouble — he had three before halftime and earned his fourth four minutes into the second. That left sophomore Zach Keller to fill the void with 20 minutes of his own.
The two point, one rebound line for Keller does little to tell the story of his play. His effort in containing Kidd was phenomenal. Keller was equally instrumental in Wake Forest’s rebounding advantage, blocking the Hokies’ path to the ball on numerous occasions.
“Zach played his tail off defensively…” Forbes said. “I thought he played tremendous in the first half. He played so hard, he made it so hard for [Kidd] to catch it. He was physical. He was tough.”
As opposed to Virginia Tech’s troubling scoring output, especially in the first half, Wake Forest consistently found ways to get the ball in the net. The Deacs connected on over 50% of its shots from the field and behind the line in the opening 20 minutes, finishing the game with a points-per-possession number of 1.26.
The Deacs were again led by their four-person attack on the offensive end. Hunter Sallis led the way with 20 points, while fellow guards Boopie Miller and Cam Hildreth each had 14. Andrew Carr notched 15 points, one of which marked the 1000th of his career.
Hunter Sallis was in the zone!— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) December 30, 2023
He dropped 20 points, shooting 8 out of 14, drained 2 threes, 9 rebounds, and protected the paint with 2 epic blocks! @WakeMBB | @HunterSallis_ pic.twitter.com/xTKZOs7mWt
Wake Forest’s scoring was a product of its gameplan. Not for the first time this season, there was a commitment to getting the ball inside and taking high-percentage shots. The Deacs attempted just four three-pointers in the opening half, as opposed to 22 points scored in the paint.
With its statement made Saturday, Wake Forest moved to No. 42 in KenPom at the time of publication. The Deacs next travel to Chestnut Hill to face Boston College on Jan. 2. Tip off is set for 7pm on ACC Network.