WINSTON-SALEM, NC — On March 9, 2023, Wake Forest fell 74-72 to the Miami Hurricanes in the quarterfinal of the ACC Tournament in Greensboro after the Deacs’ late-game comeback effort came up just short. The loss brought an often frustrating 2022-2023 season to a close – it was time for the Demon Deacons to turn the page.
Nearly 10 months later, a new chapter has begun. On this day, against those same Hurricanes – with a few new additions, of course – Wake Forest prevailed. In a similarly thrilling fashion, Steve Forbes’ group overcame a five-point overtime deficit to knock off Miami 86-82 in front of a raucous home crowd at LJVM Coliseum. The Demon Deacons have now won nine-straight games and remain flawless in conference play at 3-0.
“I’m really proud of my team,” Forbes said postgame. “I challenged them before the game. I said, ‘we’ve got to keep taking steps.’ Miami has been where we want to be, they’ve done what we want to do. We have to win games like this to get back to where Wake Forest basketball wants to be.”
As has been the story for several of Wake Forest’s critical wins this season, the Demon Deacons’ guards put forth outstanding efforts. Cam Hildreth began the game on a torrid shooting streak, drilling four threes in the first eight minutes – he finished with 23 points on 5/9 from beyond the arc and a perfect 8/8 from the charity stripe. Boopie Miller led the offense brilliantly, racking up 27 points on an efficient 10/19 shooting and 3/3 from three-point land.
And, though Hunter Sallis endured a cold stretch in the second half, at one time missing seven consecutive shots, he nailed a corner three late with 25 seconds remaining in overtime off an assist from Hildreth, putting Wake Forest up by four points and helping lift the team to victory. The backcourt is gelling in an encouraging way and driving the Deacons offense in the process.
“I feel like we give each other a lot of energy,” Miller said of the backcourt’s success. “In practice, we share the ball a lot. I feel like we can do that even more in a game. All we need to do is just keep pushing, keep making the best decisions every time we make a play and we’ll be all right.”
“They complement each other,” Forbes added. “They all kind of do different things, but they are all really good with the ball in their hands. They’re not one-dimensional. Not one of them is just catch-and-shoot. They can all bounce it.”
With Saturday’s victory, another important streak remained intact: Wake Forest is still undefeated (7-0) since center Efton Reid III became eligible. Reid has been an invaluable addition to the team, adding a formidable defensive and shot-blocking presence on the interior. The seven-footer once again answered the call in those facets against the Hurricanes, rejecting five shots and grabbing seven offensive boards – including a crucial tip out to Boopie Miller with under two minutes to play in overtime to set up a deep three that would put Wake Forest ahead for good.
“I don’t know how many times they tipped a shot out, but it was too many,” Miami head coach Jim Larranaga said. “We talked about it at timeouts, but they were very good and they were very ready for it. You tip the ball out, it gives you an extra possession and the dagger was the three they hit off it.”
“I thought he was the difference maker late on the offensive glass,” Forbes said. “He’s a big dude and a really great team player. He says all the right things and keeps everybody positive. Efton did a fabulous job of keeping balls alive, keeping possessions alive.”
The Miami Hurricanes present perhaps the most daunting defensive challenge in the ACC – Jim Larranaga’s squad led the conference in both scoring and three-point percentage entering Saturday’s contest. Though the Canes found some success beyond the arc, drilling 10 triples including three-straight to open the game, Wake Forest forced 12 turnovers and held Miami to just 42.3% from the field. This led to a relatively low Canes total of 73 points in regulation.
“Mismatches were not going to beat us, open shots were,” Forbes said. “Defensively, I thought we were pretty good because we decided they were going to score on our terms. What would that mean? We’re going to try to make them make tough twos as much as we can and they made some. Obviously, the offensive rebounds late hurt us. But we had 18 of our own.”
Though Saturday’s outcome represents an energizing win for both the program and the fan base, 17 games in a gauntlet of an ACC schedule still remain. The victory and current nine-game winning streak are certainly cause for celebration – but Wake Forest is hungry for much, much more.
“I think you have to have a next-game, next-play mentality,” Forbes said. “They’ll be able to enjoy this win tonight, and then tomorrow we’ll have a light practice, we’ll practice Monday and we’ll get on a plane to go to Tallahassee and get ready to play on Tuesday. Listen, it’s a long grind, and you have to stay away from the other kinds of streaks, losing streaks. Just keep stacking wins and see what happens.”
Tipoff for Wake Forest’s next game — at Florida State Jan. 9 — is set for 7pm on ACC Network.