It was the same story just a new chapter on Saturday afternoon as Wake Forest fell to Notre Dame 76-71 in heartbreaking fashion at the Lawrence V. Joel Coliseum.
“Lead it for 31 minutes and Notre Dame leads for two minutes, but their two minutes were the most important,” Manning said. “Disappointing loss. … I thought we had some moments where we could’ve really seized the moment, and we didn’t make enough plays down the stretch and Notre Dame did.”
Manning of course was referring to Notre Dame’s ability to keep the Deacons from converting on a field goal in the game’s final 8:08 and the Irish’s game-winning shot with eight seconds remaining.
Collapses such as the one Wake Forest experienced Saturday, Feb. 24, have become so familiar they are almost expected.
Thus, when the Deacs blew a nine point second half lead, they were just adding to the existing script of highs and lows that seemingly began exactly one calendar year ago.
On March 1, 2017 the Demon Deacon basketball program experienced one of the greatest highs it had in recent memory, as this date marks the day students stormed the court following the upset of No. 8 Louisville. The highs and lows continued as the program celebrated its first NCAA Tournament birth since 2010 and said a bittersweet goodbye to John Collins, who left after his sophomore season to enter the NBA Draft.
Fans knew this could be a difficult season given the departures of Collins and Dinos Mitoglou but remained hopeful that the Deacs would find a way to remain competitive in ACC play.
Unfortunately for the Demon Deacon faithful, the season began with a series of lows as Wake Forest dropped four of its first five to programs such as Georgia Southern, Liberty, Drake and Houston.
Faith was restored momentarily as the team rallied together and won six straight to get back on track. But then came the non-conference finale against Tennessee where the Deacs allowed the Volunteers to conclude the final 4:30 on a 13-0 run, in what could have been a momentous victory entering the ACC schedule.
Thus began the chapter of not being able to finish games, a chapter that has dominated the pages of the program’s story this past year.
In the ACC opener, the Deacs had a chance to knock off the defending national champions on their own court but instead allowed North Carolina to go on an 8-0 run in the final 2:30 to win by four.
The next late-game collapse was at NC State, when the Deacons went silent for the last four minutes. And then there was Clemson in early February when a switch to zone gave the Deacs all kinds of fits in the game’s final seven minutes.
So when Wake Forest failed to make a shot from the field in the final 8:08 on Saturday afternoon, not many were surprised.
“It’s annoying. I wouldn’t say it’s wearing us down, it’s really annoying,” said Keyshawn Woods on yet another late game collapse. “You’re losing the same way and you’re in every game, you’re not getting blown out. But you lose the game the same way each time, it just gets frustrating and annoying.”
Woods, who has battled a knee injury this season, was one of five Deacons honored on Senior Day, joining Mitch Wilbekin, Terrance Thompson, Troy Rike and Britton Anderson.
Wilbekin played one of his best games in old gold and black in his final game at the Joel, converting on four shots from beyond the arc, contributing to his 14 points for the afternoon. Woods, who is expected to return for a fifth season, played an efficient game himself, scoring 12 points on nine shots and dishing out six assists.
One of the best moments of Senior Day, however, was Troy Rike and Britton Anderson making their first career starts. The pair spent a majority of their Wake Forest careers at the end of the bench but contributed greatly in practice, getting the scholarship players ready for each game.
So when Anderson converted on two free throws to give the Deacs a 2-0 lead, scoring his first career points, it instantly became a celebratory moment — a high for the season that certainly contrasts the many lows as of late.
The senior class will play their final regular season game on Saturday when Wake Forest travels to Atlanta, Ga., to face Georgia Tech.
While there have been undeniable lows this season, this senior class deserves celebration for keeping this team competitive, especially when there has not been much to play for in recent weeks, as tournament hopes disappeared weeks ago.
Hopefully the Demon Deacon faithful will watch Wilbekin conclude his incredible Wake Forest career converting a few more shots from beyond the arc over this weekend and throughout next week’s