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Wake Forest implodes in second half at NC State

The Deacons led by 11 with under 10 minutes to go

Evan Harris/Blogger So Dear

RALEIGH, NC – NC State forward Ben Middlebrooks went for the layup in the paint with 46 seconds remaining. A foul was whistled. Then, chaos ensued. By the end of a minutes-long review, Wake Forest’s Hunter Sallis and the Wolfpack’s Mohamed Diarra had been ejected. The final seconds of a gut-wrenching Deacons loss rolled off the clock like much of the game had, with one team questioning what just happened.

At the 9:48 mark of the second half, Wake Forest led by 11, one point under the game-high. In the following seven-and-a-half minutes, NC State outscored the Deacons 24-9.

“I think, over the past three years, that’s the worst half of basketball that we played since I’ve been a coach in the second half,” head coach Steve Forbes said postgame. “It was embarrassing, and we completely lost our composure on offense and defense. We got whipped on both ends of the court. [I] thought we played selfish.

“We’ve let our fans down by losing an in-state game like this.”

As for Forbes’ message to the team tonight: “That’s between me and them.”

For a second-straight away game, Wake Forest found a way to lose when winning seemed possible, or in the case of tonight, likely.

“[I’m] definitely disappointed in the outcome,” captain Andrew Carr, who finished with a career-high 28 points, said. “I think we’re a [much] better team. Same thing happened at Florida State. End of the game, the last six minutes or so, almost every possession is either a foul or something at the rim.

“[When] it happens twice, it definitely makes us look ourselves in the mirror. We gotta figure it out. Close out games on the road.”

In the Deacs’ two prior contests — a loss at Florida State and a home victory over Virginia — the team recorded 20 and 17 turnovers respectively. Against NC State, it was much of the same — the team posted 16.

“[I’m] completely frustrated,” Forbes said. “That was a big game for me to see how we would handle growing up from Florida State to NC State on the road. And I thought we were tougher at Florida State, to be honest with you. We just imploded in the second half. I’ll take the blame. It’s my job to coach…We were just completely discombobulated on offense.”

Wake Forest’s offensive performance changed drastically from first to second half. In the first 20 minutes, the team shot 53.8% from the field, after opening at 81.8% before the second media break. In the final 20, the Deacons made a third of their attempts.

“In the first half, the ball was zinging and moving, and we got wide-open shots,” Forbes said. “Second half, we over-dribbled. Didn’t play for each other. We couldn’t score the ball and then we didn’t get any stops. Credit to those guys…I thought their guards outplayed ours. They played a lot more physical.”

Those offensive struggles, in Forbes’ mind, translated over to the defensive end. In the second half, NC State countered the Deacons’ 33.3 field-goal percentage with 51.9.

“Those two go hand in hand,” he said. “If you’re not sharing the ball and people aren’t involved, then what happens? You’re not as engaged defensively. It’s just human nature. I kept imploring them to move the ball. They just wouldn’t do it.”

Foul trouble also plagued Wake Forest. Sallis earned his third with over seven minutes until halftime. Efton Reid had his fourth roughly 10 minutes from the final buzzer. He would later foul out with 3:15 to go, when Wake Forest still led by four.

The Deacons never trailed in the first half, but their lead was down to two when NC State coach Kevin Keatts was hit with two technicals and ejected for arguing a call mid-play well onto the court. Wake Forest proceeded to score six points on the possession, go on a 10-0 run and enter halftime with a 45-35 lead.

Now at 12-5 overall and 4-2 in conference, Wake Forest awaits a Saturday matchup at home against Louisville. Tip off is set for 12pm on ESPNU.