The No. 8 Louisville Cardinals visited the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum as the highest ranked opponent to play the Deacs at home this season.
Austin Arians, Greg McClinton and Trent VanHorn were honored in Senior Night ceremonies and joined sophomores Bryant Crawford and John Collins in the starting lineup.
The first 10 minutes of the first half did not fare too well for the Deacs, as they found themselves trailing by 14 with 9:09 left in the half. Strategic substitutions to keep Collins out of foul trouble, combined with the hot shooting of Keyshawn Woods paved the way for Wake Forest to battle back from its deficit and enter the locker room trailing by just one point.
The troubles for the Deacs in the majority of the first half came from the inability for players other than Collins and Woods to score the basketball. Collins and Woods finished with 14 and 13 respectively in the first half and were supported by the play of Mitchell Wilbekin who connected on a pair of 3-pointers late in the half, including one with seven seconds left to make the halftime score 43-42.
After ending the first half on a 12-4 run, Wake Forest picked up where it left off to begin the second half on an 8-2 run thanks to a pair of 3-pointers from Mitoglou and Arians.
The second half was all Wake Forest, led by Collins, Crawford and Woods who kept up the intensity on both ends of the floor. The Cardinals did battle back from an 11 point second half Demon Deacon lead to cut their deficit to just three points on more than one occasion.
Ultimately, it was a pair of 3-pointers from Mitoglou and Wilbekin with less than three minutes left that sealed the game for the Deacs giving them a 88-81 victory and the marquee win they so desperately needed.
Collins led the way for the Deacs scoring 25 points and coming down with 11 rebounds — his 12th consecutive 20-point game.
Wake Forest will travel to Blacksburg, Va., to play Virginia Tech on Saturday, March 4 in its regular season finale. While seedings and opponents have yet to be decided, the Deacs will play in the ACC Tournament next week, beginning on Tuesday, March 7.
The Deacs will likely need to string together at least two wins in the tournament to feel confident on Selection Sunday. If Wake Forest is able to get a bid to the “big dance”, it will be its first since 2010. A win over Louisville is certainly helpful give the Deacs the marquee victory it was so desperately missing. A win over Virginia Tech in Blacksburg would be the icing on the cake.