Wake Forest dominated the first half of the game against North Carolina State. Frankly, coach Steve Forbes has built up a lot of goodwill over the last several years showing that his teams are able to win in high pressure situations. There was a lot of reason to believe that Wake Forest would ultimately come away the victors. However, what followed over the last approximately 10 minutes of game time was an absolute comedy of errors that was indicative of a complete 180 from the brand of basketball that has been so successful in Wake Forest winning nine of its last 11 games and being 4-2 in the ACC so far this year. There’s a reason that before this game, Joe Lunardi had the Demon Deacons making the NCAA tournament, albeit not particularly comfortably. They know what they have to do to win, the team has an abundance of leaders and players who can come through in clutch situations, and frankly, this might be overall the least selfish Wake Forest basketball team I can remember watching in almost 20 years of dedicated sports fandom. So I, much like the Wake Forest team itself, find myself at something of a crossroads right now. Recent information would tell me that the team is going to rebound from this, no pun intended, and use this loss as motivation and a way to remind themselves and each other what they have been doing to be so successful. However, Wake Forest basketball history over the last 15 to 20 years (approximately) would dictate that the team and the coaching staff will begin to unravel after a loss like this, and ultimately find themselves in the exact same place that they have for so long: on the outside looking in, just barely not in the NCAA tournament. A successful season by some metrics, perhaps a step in the right direction, but ultimately coming up just short or maybe even very short of where they could have been. Without getting too deep in the weeds, the biggest issue that led to the collapse was players trying to do too much by themselves. The ball stopped moving, too much dribbling was occurring, and the North Carolina State pressure on defense caused our offense to completely and totally unravel.
Combine that with the fact that North Carolina State was suddenly loose and incredibly successful at the free throw line after starting off woefully bad in the beginning of the game, and it ultimately spelled doom for Wake Forest. I’ve come to the conclusion this basketball season, both in my NCAA consumption, and my consumption of the product available in the NBA, that nothing annoys me more than turnovers. Don’t get me wrong, I know that some turnovers are inevitable. They’re part of the game of basketball. But when one team has real control over the game, and they are clearly capable of going long stretches with having good, crisp passing that leads to successful offense, it never ceases to both infuriate and baffle me that a team of high level basketball players and coaches cannot get a rampant epidemic of turnovers more under control before the wheels completely fall off. Frankly, I’m probably just heated right now. I’m almost certainly overreacting to a single game on the road in the conference against an in state rival who needed a heroic comeback in order to topple the team. However, the really unfortunate part about watching a game like that is that you can’t get the taste out of your mouth until the next game happens. And until the next game happens, and you’re given concrete reason to believe the more optimistic of the two possibilities moving forward, it’s extremely difficult to shrug off.
Of course, I know I’m not saying anything that the players and coaches don’t already know themselves. Hell, they’re probably way more bothered by this than I am. Coach Forbes and his entire team have clearly shown a lot of character both this season and seasons in the recent past, so it’s a pretty reasonable guess that they’ll turn things around and get back on the winning track. For all I know, come March, this won’t be anything more than a blip on the radar that slightly affects the seeding for Wake Forest in the NCAA tournament. But I won’t know until I know, and given the amount of garbage that we have all been through as fans of Wake Forest basketball before Coach Forbes came to town, I’d be lying if I said that my gut wasn’t telling me it’s about to get real ugly for a while. I’ve never hoped more to be wrong.
Either way, this game is a turning point. It’s the first really ugly loss that the Deacs have suffered this season. It’s the first loss, especially in conference, where i can sit here and say they well and truly had it in their hands and decided to give it away, both literally and figuratively. So it’s time to see what the team is made of. We’ll find out a lot about them over the next few games. Coach Forbes and his squad have probably earned an extremely long leash at this point. But after a game like that, I’m sure glad they have.
On to the next. Go Deacs.