Before Sunday night’s game versus Virginia, Head Coach Danny Manning was recognized for the 50th anniversary of winning the 1988 Naismith College Player of the Year award for his impressive college career at the University of Kansas, taking the Jayhawks to the national championship during his senior season and earning the 1st overall pick in the NBA draft.
This ACC matchup was a huge test for the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, and despite coming up ten points short at home, the Deacs showed a promising mid-season performance both on offense and defense. With a low and fairly close score of 59-49 for this season, Wake Forest showed significant improvement from recent ACC matchups against Virginia Tech, Duke and NC State. Facing off against the No.1-ranked team in the ACC and No.2-ranked team overall made the 14th-ranked Demon Deacons the clear underdog however the Deacons showed true grit in this particularly low-scoring game and had one of the best defensive games of the season.
Although the Cavaliers tend to have a lower points -per-game statistic, 70, than their top-ranked competitors do, Wake Forest arguably looked the best they have all season and were able to drive that number down. At the beginning of the first half, it took a bit for Virginia top shooters Kyle Guy and Devon Hall to hit their stride as Wake Forest held on with a five-point deficit with nine minutes left to go in the first half. With 8:30 left on the clock, the Demon Deacons found a bit of a momentum starting with an exciting steal and dunk by junior Bryant Crawford, a great defensive rebound by junior Doral Moore and another three-point jumper by Crawford. Nearing the end of the first half, a dunk by true freshman Olivier Sarr gave the Demon Deacons the lead for the first time in the game, overtaking the Cavaliers 19-17. Crawford attributed the slow pace and low-scoring nature of the first half to “the style of the [Virginia] offense…they play until the shot clock goes down.”
Virginia’s unique ability to control the pace of the game and up the pressure on defense is why they have become such a threat this season.
With three minutes to go, both Crawford and senior Mitchell Wilbekin made three-point jumpers to keep pushing the Demon Deacons ahead to end the first half, but Wake Forest would not hold on for long. Even though this performance was a particularly strong one, Virginia’s impeccable defense would cause the Deacs to choke and give up the lead in the second half. Just as Virginia sophomore Kyle Guy started to gain shooting momentum again with 15 minutes left in the second half, the Demon Deacons struggled to hit open jumpers, to make clean blocks and to continue the same level of effective defense shown in the first half.
At the end of the game, Moore remarked, “on the bright side, we did some good things against the number two team in the country.”
He also touched on the fact that facing off against “a top 25 team every single night” presents a tough challenge, but believes the Demon Deacons “are on a good pace and need to clean up some mistakes” in order to earn more victories.