Recapping the winter break for men’s and women’s basketball

Over the break, women’s basketball looked to build on a superb start, while the men’s team looked for its first win

Jake Stuart, Assistant Sports Editor

This year marks the beginning of a new era for both the Wake Forest Demon Deacons Men’s and Women’s basketball teams. Tim Duncan, Chris Paul, Muggsy Bogues, Dickie Hemric, Len Chappell… the list goes on. For a Wake Forest basketball team full of talent over the years, going 78-111 under coach Danny Manning, coupled with eight losing seasons over the past ten years, was not going to cut it. Enter Head Coach Steve Forbes. In five seasons coaching at East Tennessee State, Forbes led the Buccaneers to a 130-49 record. He was the Southern Conference Coach of the Year and winner of the Hugh Durham Award during the 2019-2020 season, with his team winning an astonishing 30 games and losing only four. Additionally, while serving as head coach at Northwest Florida State, Forbes put up 62 wins to just six losses. As a coach with a winning pedigree, Forbes made the jump to the ACC and to the hardwood of Winston-Salem, where he became the only major conference coach to be hired during the COVID-19 offseason.

The Demon Deacons entered the season with both a revamped coaching staff and roster. Only seven players and one coach, former Wake Forest superstar Randolph Childress, returned to Wake Forest this season. For the Deacs, the year started with a slam dunk. The team earned a commanding win in Forbes’ Wake Forest coaching debut, a 60-point win over Delaware State. Another win was added against Longwood, as the team seemed to be gaining chemistry and poise before starting its ACC campaign.

In an unfortunate series of events, the team was put on pause due to the coronavirus pandemic, having five of its ‘confidence’ games postponed or canceled. Following a 34-day absence from play, the Deacs beat Catawba College and moved to 3-0. However, the long break proved to be costly, as the team went through a gauntlet to start the season in the ACC, facing ranked opponents such as Virginia, Duke, Louisville and Virginia Tech. Wake Forest did not win any of their first six conference matchups. However, by taking a deeper look at Wake Forest’s losses, fans can find a silver lining and glimmer of hope: The team has battled in each of the losses. In all four of the Demon Deacons’ losses to ranked opponents, they have found a way to stay tight early before falling away in the second half. One has to think that experience has hurt Wake Forest down the stretch, but as Coach Forbes continued to say, the team had to cross the line and “finish.” On Saturday, behind Ishmael Massoud’s 31 points and eight 3s, Wake Forest finally found a way to finish and eke out their first ACC win by beating an eight-win team in the Pittsburgh Panthers. The team will look to use the game as momentum for the rest of the season, with more matchups against top-ranked ACC opponents on the horizon.

For the Wake Forest Women’s basketball team, their strong start to the season (7-6) has been extremely encouraging. The Demon Deacons opened the year winning four of their first five games, with their only loss coming to the No. 14 ranked Arkansas Razorbacks. This season has been a drastic improvement over the last, which saw Wake Forest winning just one game in the ACC and finishing the season dead last in the conference with ten wins and twenty losses. Four of the team’s marquee wins this season have come against formidable ACC opponents, notably North Carolina and Miami, along with a statement win over No. 24 ranked Missouri State. Wake Forest has fought hard in nearly all of its losses, most recently coming up just two points shy of an upset against Louisville, the nation’s top-ranked team.

The Deacs wrap up the season with ten straight games against formidable ACC opponents, including NC State and Georgia Tech. Leading the team is senior Forward Ivana Raca, averaging 16 points and ten rebounds a game. Senior guard Gina Conti has added 15 points per game while leading the team shooting 37% from the three-point mark. Wake Forest is currently chasing its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1988. The future looks bright, and the team looks to keep its momentum rolling.