WINSTON-SALEM, NC – Wake Forest’s Tuesday loss to Florida State was a bump in the road, but if it carried over to Saturday, it could have been much larger. Instead, the Deacons flipped the table, shooting 50% against one of the best defenses in the nation, and holding Virginia to 28.1% from the floor en route to a 66-47 second-half beatdown.
“I think we learned a lot about our team,” Andrew Carr said postgame. “It’s not always going to be easy, especially [when] you win nine in a row. You kind of forget what the feeling is like when you lose. We definitely took that hard…we were ready to move on.
“Coming away from that game, we [had to] be able to really impose our identity into the game, and I felt like we did a good job of that, especially in the second half.”
Saturday was also a time for Carr to forget, and move past, some of his own struggles during a three-game skid. Other than the game-sealing three-pointer against Boston College, Carr had a hard time scoring, going a combined 5-14 from the field. In particular, physicality was not up to standards on both sides of the court.
Not so against Virginia. Carr knocked down four shots from the field, pulled down 12 rebounds and played strong defense in 34 minutes of action. It was his first double-double in ACC play this season, and much of it can be attributed to his aggression.
“I felt like today, the opportunity presented itself,” Carr said. “It definitely was a mindset to try and be as aggressive as possible attacking close-outs…I was coming into the game ready to take advantage of it and try to be physical in the paint.”
“I thought he played tremendous,” head coach Steve Forbes later added. “I told Andrew to get out of his head. Sometimes he’s a little too analytical…he gets down on himself more than I’ve ever been down on him.
“He does so many things. He gets a lot of those tough rebounds around the basket. He made some tough shots today. He guarded big guys, he guarded guards. He’s always covering up and helping. I think he’s a very integral part of our team.”
Though Wake Forest again labored with turnovers — posting 17 after giving up 20 against the Seminoles — it made up for ball-security with elite defense. The Deacs held Virginia, a team averaging 66 points per game, to 47 on 28% shooting. In the second half, where Wake Forest turned the game from close to comfortable, the Hoos shot under 24%.
“Defensively, they put the game plan into the game today for 40 minutes,” Forbes said. “It was relentless. [The Cavaliers] have their struggles offensively, but they still make you guard them… you got to stay with it. And the moment you fall asleep, they’ll make you pay.
“Last year, they made 15 threes here. This year, we wanted to not let them attempt 15. They didn’t get 15 off. They got 12.”
Specifically, Wake Forest found success defending Virginia’s prolific guards — Reece Beekman and Isacc McKneely. The pair combined to go 5-22 from the field.
“I thought they did a good job,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said, referring to the guards. “They were physical. They got into them. If we didn’t set a good screen or we didn’t set them up, they just guarded us tough and hard. They made them earn.”
“I thought that our defensive effort was outstanding,” Forbes said. “For Hunter and Cameron [Hildreth] to chase those guys off the screens all game long like that, I don’t know if you realize how hard that is and what elite condition they have to be in to do that…Boopie was good too, now.”
Miller, who mostly defended Beekman, held the primary scorer to just 10 points.
“I feel like he’s the engine for the team,” Miller said. “I feel like if I can get a couple stops on him, everybody else would play along with it.”
Miller finished the game with 15 points and seven assists on the offensive end.
Bennett also mentioned the size that Wake Forest had down low, which provided “backline support” on helps. That made “finishing over the rim” a challenge. Most notably, that applies to Carr’s play and Efton Reid, who finished with five blocks.
After scoring 10 against Florida State — his lowest as a Demon Deacon — along with recording four turnovers, Hunter Sallis came back with one of his best performances. The Gonzaga transfer finished with 23 points on 8/13 from the field and five threes. Additionally, Sallis pulled down nine rebounds to go with just one turnover and foul each.
“I’m not sure I’ve had a player have a better overall game on both ends of the court since I’ve been here,” Forbes said. “Offense and defense. He did it all today…Hunter was at a different level, I thought, today.”
Sallis’ rebounds were a part of a complete effort from Wake Forest on the boards. To go with Carr’s 12 and Sallis’ nine, Reid notched eight and Zach Keller, who earned Forbes’ compliments, pulled down four. The Deacons outrebounded Virginia 40-27.
Following a six-point halftime lead, Wake Forest stormed out of the locker room with a 10-2 run. From there, the Deacs never led by less than 11. A 12-5 late charge allowed Wake to walk away with the 19-point difference.
Now rated No. 37 in KenPom at the time of publication, Wake Forest faces off with NC State on Tuesday evening in Raleigh. Tip off is set for 7pm on ACC Network.