Wake Forest falls in heartbreaking fashion

After leading by as many as 14 points, Notre Dame closed the gap in the final minutes


The Notre Dame team surrounded junior guard Trey Wertz in celebration after his buzzer-beating bucket stuns the Demon Deacons.

Christian Odjakjian, Staff Writer

Heartbreak. There’s no other word to describe it.

For most of their opening game in the ACC Tournament, Wake Forest was in dreamland, playing their best basketball since the Florida State game a month ago.

But it all came crashing down when Notre Dame erased a 16 point second-half deficit to win on a beautiful 30-foot buzzer-beater by junior guard Trey Wertz.

“As soon as I shot it, I knew it was good,” Wertz said.

The No. 11 seed Fighting Irish staged an epic comeback to defeat the No. 14 seed Demon Deacons 80-77, ending their season at the Greensboro Coliseum last Tuesday.

Notre Dame closed the game out on a 17-2 run to shock Wake Forest and complete the epic comeback. The Fighting Irish took the lead with two Prentiss Hubb free throws to make the score 77-75. But with just under a minute to go, freshman guard Carter Whitt confidently dribbled right up the middle of the court, pulled up at the free-throw line and knocked down the mid-range jumper to tie it back up.

After a Notre Dame miss, Wake Forest had the opportunity to take the last shot of the game with the shot clock turned off. Wake Forest Head Coach Steve Forbes opted not to call a timeout so the Irish couldn’t set their defense, allowing the hot-handed junior Davien Williamson to try and put the game away. However, Notre Dame’s Cormac Ryan made a fantastic defensive play, stymieing Williamson’s drive and shot attempt, before pushing the ball up the court and flipping it to the trailing Wertz, who delivered the cold-hearted game-winner.

“Sometimes the game can be cruel,” Forbes said. “It doesn’t always reward the team that maybe deserved to win. We led for 35 minutes of the game, but we just couldn’t finish it.”

“At the 10-minute mark, it didn’t look very good,” Notre Dame Head Coach Mike Brey said. “I said ‘fellows, how we finish the game is really going to determine a lot about how we go into next season. … Show me how you’re going to play it, because I’m really interested.’”

Forbes had his guys fired up for the game, and the Deacs came storming out of the gates. Early on, Wake Forest was out-rebounding Notre Dame 15-2. Players were driving and shooting with confidence, willing the ball into the basket. Wake Forest jumped out to a 21-7 lead eight minutes into the game after Ian Dubose knocked down a pull-up three from the top of the key in transition.

Notre Dame cut the lead to three in the first half to make the score 33-30, but Wake Forest responded with an 11-2 run to stretch the lead back to double digits. Then, in the second half, Notre Dame cut the Wake Forest lead to just six with just over eight minutes remaining, but back-to-back Williamson threes gave the Deacs a 12-point cushion. Wake Forest held off two Notre Dame pushes, but the final one was too much to handle.

Williamson played an incredible game, scoring 21 points with five three-pointers. He’s the first Wake Forest player in history to make at least five threes without missing one in an ACC tournament game.

For the second straight year, Isaiah Mucius showed up big in the ACC tournament. The junior forward notched a double-double with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Whitt scored 12 and added seven assists.

Notre Dame’s hero, Wertz, finished with 16 points on 5-6 shooting. Juwan Durham had 16 as well, and Cormac Ryan and Prentiss Hubb added 14 apiece.

An eight-game losing streak is a tough way to end the season, but there are certainly still positives from Forbes’ first season. A culture grounded in energy, effort and belief is starting to be built, and the only direction is moving is up.

“I think this is a season [in which] we’ve learned a lot about ourselves and about our team, and what we want to do moving forward,” Forbes said, “There’s going to be a lot of guys coming back that understand the expectations and what we need to do. So I thought it was a positive moment even though it is a loss.”

In their next game of the tournament, Notre Dame got destroyed by No. 6 seed North Carolina, to the tune of a 101-59 rout.