Wake Forest played with heart in an 87-93 loss on Wednesday, Jan. 11, against North Carolina. But heart wasn’t enough to beat Roy Williams and the No. 11 Tar Heels.
Reminiscent of many Wake Forest games in the recent memory, the Deacons’ comeback fell just short against the Tar Heels at the LJVM Coliseum, tugging at the heartstrings of Demon Deacon fans who are growing increasingly accustomed to such dramatic losses.
“Nobody feels sorry for us,” Manning said. “Nobody can change it but us. We need to learn to play two halves.”
Wake Forest found themselves with an 8-0 lead to start the game, fitting their narrative of being a first-half team. By halftime, though, North Carolina had taken command of the game and the scoreboard, as they entered the break with a 49-34 lead.
Out of necessity, Wake Forest shook off their reputation of underperforming in the second half. A 20-7 run with 12:29 remaining cut the North Carolina lead to five, and with just under 10 minutes remaining, the Deacs’ had cut the lead to one. The raucous crowd no doubt inspired the young Deacons who are lacking in experience with nationally televised games, but Carolina’s experience and poise down through the final minutes of the game allowed them to pull away and finish with the victory.
Wake Forest basketball has now played 17 games and is nearly one third of the way finished with its ACC schedule. The 2016-2017 Demon Deacons have proven to be the most competitive team Danny Manning has coached since he took the helm in 2014, but have continued to struggle to play a full 40 minutes and finish close games as victors.
The Kenpom statistical ranking — which uses a number of significant factors to rate the strength of a given team — classifies Wake Forest as the No. 44 best team in the country, a ranking that demonstrates significant improvement from Manning’s first two seasons when the Deacs finished the year No. 120 and No. 118 respectively.
While it has not necessarily translated to more tallies in the win column, improvement in statistical rankings should be considered a significant step forward for Wake Forest, since it proves the Deacs’ are more talented and competitive now than they were in previous seasons. Wake Forest is seemingly winning each game it is supposed to win and just barely losing to superior programs.
At this point in the season, the Deacs have lost each of their seven games to teams that currently rank in the top 40 in the statistical rankings. Villanova (3), Virginia (4), North Carolina (5), Florida State (19), Xavier (22), Clemson (24) and Northwestern (40) all rank ahead of Wake Forest (44).
The Demon Deacons have experienced a fair amount of disappointment in each of these seven losses, as many have come as a result of epic collapses in the final 10 minutes of the games.
Questionable late-game substitutions and lineups have supplemented mental errors and wasted possessions, preventing Wake Forest from defeating opponents that had often been dominated by Deacs for a majority of the game.
No game was more frustrating than the ACC home opener against Clemson on New Years Eve, when the Deacs allowed the Tigers to end the game on a 15-0 run to give Clemson a 73-68 victory.
Fans were angered most with the decision to take sophomore John Collins out of the game late in the second half — especially since he had been dominating the paint with 20 points to that point. Manning’s questionable lineups, Austin Arians’ turnovers and the inability to give Collins some shots down the stretch cost Wake Forest its first ACC home game of the season.
At 10-7 and 1-4 in the ACC, the Deacs’ season is far from over.
With greater depth, improved overall shooting and the superb play of sophomores John Collins and Bryant Crawford, Wake Forest has the talent and ability to defeat any opponent.
If it can figure out how to play a full 40 minutes the Deacs could win any given night.
Wake Forest will host Miami next Wednesday, Jan. 18 at the Joel and will look to get back on track against a Hurricanes team that has seemingly played at a similar level as the Deacs’.