Well, it looks like Demon Deacon fans could be in for another long season. The Deacs returned 77% of their scoring production from last season, yet the team does not appear to look any better.
To begin the 2019-20 campaign, Wake Forest fell 77-70 on the road to ACC foe Boston College 77 on Wednesday, making Head Coach Danny Manning 5-41 overall in ACC road games. The Deacs then barely pulled out a 65-63 victory over an underwhelming Columbia on Sunday.
On Wednesday, Boston College jumped out of the gates, taking control with an 18-point lead near the end of the first half. Wake Forest looked better in the second half, but never was able to cut the deficit to fewer than seven. Turnovers were a huge area of concern, as the Deacs gave it away 17 times, and were outscored 18-2 in points off turnovers.
“They put us in some tough situations as far as taking care of the basketball,” Manning said. “The points that they were able to score off our turnovers were a huge difference for us.”
Duke transfer Derryck Thornton made a promising debut for his new team, leading the Eagles to the win with his career-high 23 points.
Brandon Childress led the way for Wake Forest with 24 points and seven assists, a very impressive line considering he didn’t make a single field goal in the first half. Isaiah Mucius started his sophomore year with a strong performance, scoring 18 points on an efficient 8-13 shooting. Freshman Ody Oguama was a standout in his debut, scoring 10 points to go along with seven rebounds in 21 minutes of play. Columbia, predicted to come in sixth place in the Ivy League, had no business in going into an ACC team’s arena and stealing a win. The Deacs were very lucky to pull this one out, facing a four-point deficit with under a minute left.
Chaundee Brown hit the free throw after an and-one layup to cut the deficit to one. After an offensive foul on Columbia, Brown got back to the line, hitting the first and missing the second, which went out of bounds off the Lions. Childress got the ball at the top of the key, took his man left, spun middle and elevated to shoot a fadeaway in the middle of the paint. After a bit of bouncing and rolling on the rim, the ball dropped through the net, giving Wake Forest a two point cushion with just over a second left.
Brown put up 20 points in the home opener, and Childress added 11.
The Lions, although inferior in terms of talent, arguably played a better game than the Deacs, but couldn’t finish. Two crucial winning factors for Wake Forest were the +8 offensive rebounding margin and the fact that they attempted 20 more free throws than the opposing Lions.
“A win is a win. It wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win,” Childress said. “We can’t dwell on the past; we’ve got to keep moving forward.”
Manning’s rotation went 12 deep in both games, as he is really experimenting with what he has. The substitution patterns he used in the two games seemed choppy, random and inconsistent, but hopefully he can start to figure out the best way to use his talent. It will be interesting to see if freshmen Oguama, Jahcobi Neath and Ismael Massoud are able to carve out significant roles for themselves early in this season. Front-court depth also looks like it is going to be a big issue, as junior forward Sunday Okeke joined freshman forward Tariq Ingraham in the out-for-the-season-with-a-torn-Achilles club.
If there was any glimmer of hope that Manning could find success at Wake Forest in his seventh season, this uninspiring start has all but dulled that thought. Attendance was under 4,500, an unfortunately low number for a school with the basketball pedigree of Wake Forest, which speaks to the lack of any sort of hope around the program.
After hosting UNC-Asheville, the Deacs travel to play graduate transfer Andrien White’s former team, UNC-Charlotte, on Sunday night.