Sat. Jul 4th, 2020

Deacs Head Into Season-Defining Stretch

Despite losing Chaundee Brown and Isaiah Mucius to injuries, Wake Forest could find itself competitive in a weak ACC

The Wake Forest Demon Deacons (9-8, 2-5) soundly defeated the Boston College (BC) Eagles (9-9, 3-4) at the LJVM Coliseum on Sunday by a score of 80-62, ending a three-game losing streak that had threatened to derail the Deacs season and gaining revenge for a season-opening loss in Chestnut Hill.

With junior starting guard Chaundee Brown missing the last four games and sophomore starting forward Isaiah Mucius injuring his leg during the shootaround prior to Sunday’s contest, Coach Danny Manning was forced to start perhaps the ACC’s most-improved player, junior center Olivier Sarr, alongside freshman forward Ody Oguama. Both Sarr and Oguama responded to the call, with Sarr posting a double-double in the first half, and Oguama having by far his finest game in a Wake Forest uniform, tallying 16 points and 10 rebounds.

With the two big men dominating in the paint, senior guard Brandon Childress had ample room to operate, and he sliced through the Eagles’ defense to lead all scorers with 20 points, including going 5-7 from three-point land. Wake Forest opened up a seven-point lead at halftime, and then rode a 16-3 run at the start of the second half to take a commanding 52-32 lead with just under 14 minutes left. Although BC attempted to rally, cutting the lead to 12 at one point, the Deacons responded, and during the final minutes the outcome was never in doubt. With the win, Wake Forest improved its record to 9-8 overall, 2-5 in the ACC, and escaped a tie for the conference cellar with UNC.

While this win had to feel good for the Deacs, they will have little time to celebrate. Wake Forest’s next four games are all against unranked conference opponents, and this stretch will most likely determine whether the Old Gold and Black will have the opportunity for post-season play. The ACC is having its weakest season in years, and with perhaps only a few exceptions, Wake Forest will have a chance to win every game left on its schedule. Of course, to do that, they will continue to need strong performances from Sarr, who demonstrated to Manning his desire to be in the starting lineup with his play against BC, and to get the injured Brown and Mucius back in the rotation.

First, the Deacs will take on Clemson at Littlejohn Coliseum on Tuesday night. Clemson won back-to-back games at UNC (ending a 59-game losing streak to Chapel Hill) and at home against Duke, but returned to earth Saturday, losing to NC State. Wake Forest then returns home Sunday to face Virginia, the reigning national champs. With much of its championship team departing to the NBA, Virginia has struggled at times this year, and recently endured a three-game losing streak, which included a loss at BC. As usual, Virginia thrives on the defensive side of the ball and maintains the best scoring defense in college basketball, but has failed to find any success on offense. This will be a good opportunity for Wake Forest, considering they haven’t beaten the Cavaliers in six years.

Wake Forest then travels to South Bend to take on Notre Dame at the Joyce Center. The Fighting Irish have struggled all season, but were able to scratch out a win at Georgia Tech in their last contest. After making the tournament three years in a row, Notre Dame has missed the dance each of the last two years and will need some more quality wins if they want to end that streak this year. Wake Forest won at the Joyce Center in February of last year and will hope to continue their success next week.

Finally, Wake Forest will play host to Clemson on Feb. 1, an end to what looks to be a season-altering stretch of games. These next few games will not only determine the fate of the Demon Deacons’ postseason chances, but quite possibly Manning’s future. The head coach has been on the hot seat for some time now, but is holding onto a contract that reportedly runs through the 2024-2025 season and includes an $18 million buyout. If all goes well, the Deacs could find themselves in the thick of a weak ACC and possibly in tournament contention for the first time since John Collins led them to the dance in 2017.