If you were a neutral observer, that was a really fun game of basketball. Unfortunately, none of us are neutral observers, and despite the high scoring, entertaining 40 minutes of basketball we just watched, the end result was Waking losing their 10th game of the season to Miami 96-87. This was one of Wake’s last two chances to grab an additional Quad 1 win before the ACC Tournament, which means that the Deacs’ bubble is getting close to bursting. Wake now moves to 17-10 on the year and 9-7 in the ACC, which would put them in the 8-9 matchup in the ACC Tournament for the right to play the #1 team in the conference. That may actually be beneficial for the Deacs, because it would mean another Quad 1 game against the Tar Heels and potentially an additional Quad 1 game against Virginia should the current ACC standings hold.
The first half of this game was some of the best offense I have seen in college basketball this season. The defense, on the other hand, was pretty much nonexistent. Through the first 20 minutes of the game, the Deacs shot 52% from the floor and 37% from beyond the arc, while the Canes shot an absurd 67% from the floor and 57% from downtown. Just based off of that, you would think Wake would be down big at the half, but due to an 11-2 second chance point advantage, the Deacs trailed just 44-47 at the end of the half.
Miami opened the game on a 7-0 run and it started to look like the Deacs might be out of the game before it even got started. Damari Monsanto hit a couple of 3’s and the Deacs settled in with a 12-4 run to get right back in it just 3 minutes later. Moving to a smaller lineup with Bobi Klintman in the game really helped to jump start the offense for Wake Forest. Klintman finished the first half with 8 and 6 rebounds and was really a huge part of getting the Deacs back into the game so quickly.
Wake eventually fought their way back to grab a 4-point lead 29-25 before Isaiah Wong caught fire and scored 13 straight points for the Canes to put Miami back on top 42-32. Miami has so many talented guards that are all capable of scoring in bunches when they get even a little space to operate off a screen or in transition. During the run, Wong hit a midrange jumper, got to the rim a couple of times, made a 3 from the logo, and then hit a 3 while being fouled. That ability to score from anywhere on the court at pretty much any time is what makes Miami so incredibly difficult to defend. Wong finished the half with 15 points on 6-12 shooting.
The Deacs responded with a 7-0 run of their own, fueled by Cam Hildreth and Klintman. Wake finished off the half on a 12-5 run to go into the half down 3 points, despite just 4 points and 5 turnovers from Tyree Appleby. It was a roller coaster of a half for both teams, but it sure was fun to watch.
The second half started much like the first—with a big Canes run. Wong scored 6 straight points after 4 quick free throws on a shooting foul combined with a Monsanto technical foul for throwing his headband towards the Wake bench. Appleby’s 6th turnover of the game led to a Nijel Pack 3-pointer, and just like that, the Deacs were back down by 12.
Wake managed to tread water with some hot 3-point shooting, but the turnovers and the incredible shot making from Miami’s guards kept the Deacs from making up any ground through the early part of the 2nd half. Wong and Pack were phenomenal for the Canes today, getting space to operate off of high ball screens and just making tough midrange jumper after tough midrange jumper. I’m sure the game plan on defense going into the game was to go over the screens and play drop coverage to keep the Canes from getting to the rim and give up the midrange jumper. Sometimes, the offense is just too good to stop.
The Deacs never gave up in this one though. Despite the hot shooting from Miami and Wake turning the ball over what seemed like a hundred times in the second half, the Miami lead was just 5 points with 4 minutes remaining in the game. Almost all of the Wake turnovers in the second half were unforced and led directly to transition opportunities for the Canes. Appleby was seemed to be pressing a little too hard today and tried to make plays where there really was no play to be made.
In the end, those turnovers were just too much to overcome. Wake finished the game with 19 turnovers that resulted in 34 points off turnovers for Miami. The Canes are already a tough team to beat, but when you spot them 34 points by being careless with the ball, they are going to be impossible to beat. Over half of those turnovers came from Appleby, who broke the program record with 12 turnovers in the game. If the Deacs had just taken care of the ball a little better—say 14 turnovers instead of 19—they probably win this game and get a crucial quad 1 win to bolster their NCAA Tournament resume. Instead, Wake now must win out and probably make a deep run in the ACC Tournament just to get onto the bubble.
The frustrating part is that outside of the turnovers, Wake played a fantastic game. The Deacs finished shooting 55% from the floor and 43% from beyond the arc while assisting on 22 of their 32 made field goals. Every player who got into the game scored in double figures for the Deacs with the exception of Bobi Klintman, who finished with 8 points and 12 rebounds. I’d guess that if Wake played that well against any other team in the conference, they probably would have won by double digits. Unfortunately, they ran into a buzzsaw in Isaiah Wong and Nijel Pack, who combined for 51 points on 54% shooting from the floor.
The Deacs just have 1 more Quad 1 game remaining in the regular season to boost their resume against NC State on Wednesday. That game is now a must win game for the Deacs if they want to even be considered for the NCAA Tournament. Any losses at this point in the season pretty much move Wake completely out of the NCAA Tournament and into the NIT.
Tough loss, but we’re onto the next.