Wake Forest’s NCAA Tournament hopes remain alive after the Deacs took down the North Carolina Tar Heels 92-85. Wake jumped all over the Heels in the first half and held onto the lead all the way to the finish line, despite allowing UNC to make things interesting down the stretch. With the win, Wake is now 16-9 overall and 8-6 in the ACC, moving them into 7th place in the conference.
The first half was pretty much perfect for Wake Forest. The Deacs were attacking the Heels with the pick and roll, and Tyree Appleby was just slicing up UNC’s defense. When UNC didn’t bring help, Appleby was getting to the rim and scoring, and when someone rotated over to help, he was finding the open man for alley-oops and open 3-pointers. He finished the first half with 10 points and 6 assists.
Over the first 20 minutes, the Deacs scored 47 points on 51% shooting from the floor and made 5 of their 11 3-point attempts. Damari Monsanto was on fire early for Wake, scoring 12 points on 3-6 shooting.
While they were great on offense, Wake also had a very good half defensively, allowing the Heels to score just 25 points. The Deacs held North Carolina to 33% shooting and 0-5 from behind the arc. Bradford, who got the start as Wake once again went big, did an incredible job slowing down Armando Bacot.
The Deacs used that hot first half to get up by as much as 26 points in the second half. Unfortunately, the Deacs went ice cold for the final 16 minutes of the game and allowed North Carolina to chip away at the lead throughout the half. In the second half, Wake shot just 33% from the floor and missed all 8 of their 3-point attempts.
Armando Bacot got his 4th foul pretty quickly into 2nd half, and I felt like Wake was trying a little too hard to foul him out with iso ball instead of just running their normal offense. Several possessions ended with Wake getting Bacot switched onto Appleby, and Appleby just launching a 3-pointer or taking a bad jump shot with the shot clock running down.
Down the stretch, Caleb Love, who spent most of the game throwing up brick after brick, suddenly couldn’t miss from downtown. He started hitting shots from about 35 feet that definitely made me feel a little nervous towards the end of the game.
Thankfully, Tyree Appleby made almost all of his free throws at the end of the game, allowing Wake to hold on for the win. Appleby finished with an ACC record in both makes (23) and attempts (28) from the free throw line as UNC opted to basically just foul for final several minutes. With those free throws, Appleby finished the game with 35 points, becoming the 1st ACC player to finish with 35+ points and 10+ assists since the 2010-11 season. Only 15 other players in all of division 1 have achieved that stat line since 2011, including Trae Young and Ja Morant. That’s some elite company.
Outside of Appleby and Monsanto, who combined for 51 of Wake’s 92 points, the Deacs got a balanced contribution from the rest of the roster, with every player who got in the game scoring at least 5 points. Marsh was the only other player in double figures with 10.
It’s always great to get a win over North Carolina, even if the Deacs did allow them to come back from a 26 point deficit to make things interesting at the end. Wake is still clinging to an outside chance of making the NCAA Tournament, and this win was a good start to getting there. The Deacs must take care of business against the remaining home opponents (Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, BC) and will probably have to pick up one if not both of the remaining Quad 1 games on the road against Miami and NC State to get themselves on the bubble. Its a tough task, but don’t count out this Wake team.