WINSTON-SALEM, NC – Despite trailing by as much as 18, Rutgers wasn’t just going to go away. Time and time again, the Scarlet Knights worked their way back, first to six, then to three and finally to two. But, after coming face to face with a 9-0 Rutgers run to whittle its lead down to a basket, Wake Forest proved to be resilient, blowing the game away with an 18-0 run to secure a statement-making 76-57 victory.
With 10:31 remaining in the second half, Noah Fernandes knocked in a two-point jumper to make the score 50-48. Wake Forest hadn’t found a point in over two-and-a-half minutes. But head coach Steve Forbes didn’t call a timeout. Instead, he let his team play.
In the ensuing two minutes, the Deacons rattled off eight-straight points to force a timeout. Then, they ripped another ten in a row. A two-point advantage became 20 in just over a quarter of the game.
“Sometimes you gotta fight,” Forbes said. “You got to work out your problems. You gotta figure it out and keep playing. This is a pretty resilient group of dudes…that’s when the game broke open…that’s the maturity you want to see.”
The scoring stretch for Wake Forest began with an Efton Reid block and Boopie Miller three on the other end. Andrew Carr followed with an offensive rebound to and-one possession, while another big board led to an extra-point opportunity for Miller. The Demon Deacons’ ability to defend well was critical during their game-changing run.
“We got three kills in a row, so nine-straight possessions stops,” Forbes said. “You’re going to win a lot of games doing that…we just played a really solid game, especially defensively.”
Wake Forest’s dominance on the glass was also a key factor. The Demon Deacons recorded 15 offensive boards and outrebounded Rutgers 42-30. Wake Forest scored 21 second-chance points and 32 in the paint, both of which were highlighted during the second-half blitz.
“The coaches told us to rebound that ball,” Reid said. “We struggled with that in the past. They’ve really made an emphasis on that, just working on our rebounding. That’s what we did.”
Forbes’ team was the more physical one, which also played a role in Rutgers’ 14-44 shooting clip from two.
“You can feel it right,” he said. “We did a great job in the paint… it also means that they were taking tough twos and not making them…We just got to get the rebounds, and we did.”
After his two-time transfer waiver was granted by the NCAA Tuesday, Efton Reid recorded his second-career double-double, notching 12 points and 14 rebounds. Though the shooting wasn’t necessarily there — Reid finished 4-13 from the field — his impact on the team in 28 minutes of action was immense.
“It feels good because I put in a lot of hard work,” Reid said. “I just stayed the course. My mom always told me to keep the faith. And that’s what I did. I’m just blessed…I’m speechless. I’m really speechless…I love playing for my guys and going to war with them every day.”
“He’s that guy,” Forbes later added. “[He] obviously gives us a tremendous presence around the basket and can alter shots. He rebounds…got some vice grips for hands. I think the offense will get better, even though it wasn’t bad.”
“To be honest with you, he wasn’t getting a lot of reps with the number one team when we were getting ready to play games, but he was still out there. I think he changes our team…it was pretty apparent tonight.”
Boopie Miller led the Demon Deacons with 23 points, including four threes.
“He’s played tremendous,” Forbes said. “It’s not just the offense. He gets a lot of scrappy, loose balls. He gets a lot of 50-50 balls. He’s getting down in there and getting rebounds. He’s getting down and knocking balls out of people’s hands, he’s stealing the ball…He’s made as much of an improvement from the time we scrimmaged Georgetown to now [out of] anybody on the team.”
Three other Demon Deacons scored in double-digits — Cameron Hildreth with 12, Hunter Sallis with 11 and Carr adding 10.
“We’ve got a really diverse team,” Sallis said. “Efton coming back adds a lot of depth to our team. I feel like we can show a lot of different lineups…being able to switch it up definitely makes it a lot easier to score the ball.”
Zach Keller gave Wake Forest 12 valuable minutes of physical play spelling Reid at the five.
“He’s come a long way,” Reid said. “I told him to stay positive…you gotta climb up the hill… That’s what I’m here for. He’s my teammate.”
In the first seven minutes of action, Wake Forest outscored Rutgers 18-3. But, the Demon Deacons did not finish the half — or begin the second — the way they wanted. It went from holding serve to reeling. Then came the kill shot 10 minutes from the final buzzer.
“[We] got off to a really good start,” Forbes said. “I thought we ended the half very poorly. Think they scored eight-straight possessions…which wasn’t good. Got off to kind of a slow start in the second half. But when it became game time, I thought we buckled back down.”
A year after turning the ball over 22 times in Piscataway during a 81-57 loss, Wake Forest only recorded 10 turnovers at home.
“They’re really good at turning you over,” Forbes said. “We did a great job of that. I think that probably was a big part of the game.”
With the victory, Wake Forest rocketed up 15 spots in KenPom to No. 62 at the time of publishing. The Deacs will look to further their stretch of wins when NJIT comes to the Joel Saturday night. Tip off is set for 8pm on ACC Network.
Steve Forbes spoke in-depth about Efton Reid’s transfer waiver being approved in the post-game press conference.
“I thought we handled it in as professional [of a] manner as anything can be handled. We had a great case the whole time and we knew it.”
“It starts with Efton and his mom, Maria, and his brother, Alex. Special people... We have a whole bunch of people here at Wake that helped. Joe Roach on the board, Dr. Wente, John Currie. Lindsey Babcock and Daren Koudele, they carried the ball for 200-some days. They were incredible.”
“Pete Paukstelis, Brian White our General Counsel, Dr. Rachel Conway, Dr. Chris Miles, all those people on campus were very instrumental. Then we had Stu Brown, former Wake grad who’s Efton’s attorney. We had outside counsel with Bob Kirschner from BS&K in Kansas City and John Long. And then we had advising from former governor Mike Easley. So, we had a lot going on.”
Forbes also thanked Gonzaga head coach Mark Few, who wrote a letter on Reid’s behalf.
“I also want to say how much I think of Mark Few. Mark supported this thing from the get go. Mark wrote a letter in [Reid’s] defense supporting him. He didn’t have to do that. That’s the type of person that he is.”
Forbes on the emotional moment of announcing the waiver.
“I was very emotional. I mean, I’m a crier. I was crying out in the hallway before I came in there...We’ve been through a lot. I listed all those people. It’s a lot of hard work and a lot of belief in [Reid.] This was worth it, because he’s worth it. And not just the basketball. He’s a tremendous representative of this institution, on and off the court. He’s a high level student. I’m blessed to coach him and have his family in my life.”