Men’s basketball finds success over winter break

Wake Forest picked up pivotal conference wins over Florida State and Syracuse.


Courtesy of Wake Forest Athletics

Senior guard Alondes Williams led the Demon Deacons with a 25-point, 12-rebound double-double in the thrilling overtime win against Syracuse.

Christian Odjakjian, Staff Writer

On Wednesday night at 7 p.m., Wake Forest men’s basketball has arguably their biggest game in years as the No. 8 Duke Blue Devils come to town for an ACC showdown. 

Since students went home for Winter Break, the Demon Deacons have been competing at a high level and now sit at 13-3 overall with a 3-2 conference record, good enough for sixth place in the ACC.

To close non-conference play, Wake Forest strung together three victories against mid-major competition. Wake’s senior guard and leading scorer Alondes Williams put together one of the best statistical three-game runs in Wake Forest history over the stretch, earning him US Basketball Writers Association National Player of the Week honors.

Wake Forest emerged from out-of-conference play with just one loss to No. 12 LSU, which boasts the best defense in the country. 

The break began easily for the Demon Deacons, who started off with a 26-point home win over USC Upstate on Dec. 11. In that contest, Williams notched the second triple-double in Wake Forest history with a 16-point, 14-rebound and 10-assist performance. The only Wake Forest player to pull off the feat before him was Tim Duncan.

In the next two games, Wake Forest was without the services of junior forward Jake LaRavia, who was held out due to COVID-19 protocols.

In the first of those two games, VMI proved to be a solid team out of the Southern Conference. Hot shooting helped the Keydets build an early lead that topped out at 17. The Demon Deacons dominated from then on with help from Williams, who finished with 36 points. Wake Forest was able to come out on top with a 77-70 victory.

Wake Forest was then the team to get out to a hot start when they took on Charlotte at the Spectrum Center on Dec. 17. The Demon Deacons stormed out of the gate and led by as much as 18 in the first half. The 49ers then caught fire in the second half and tied the game up for the first time since the beginning of the game. In the final moments, Williams was able to penetrate the defense and kick out to an open Isaiah Mucius in the corner, who drained a three-pointer at the buzzer to win the game. Mucius had 20 points in the game, and Williams scored 34, along with eight assists and seven rebounds.  

Williams cemented himself on the national radar during this stretch. Steve Forbes’ new group entered the heart of ACC play with considerable momentum and an 11-1 record.

The Deacs suffered their first ACC loss on Dec. 29, when they traveled to Louisville and fell 73-69. The Cardinals found the free-throw line far too frequently, knocking down 25 attempts. Whenever Wake Forest hit a big shot down the stretch, Louisville immediately answered. A shot clock gaffe at the end of the game — which the ACC admitted was a mistake — caused Wake Forest to commit a foul when they didn’t have to, leading to the heartbreaking loss.

On New Year’s Day, the Demon Deacons visited Miami, where the Hurricanes were able to outscore Wake Forest 92-84 in an offensive showdown. Williams, LaRavia, Mucius, Dallas Walton and Khadim Sy all finished in double figures to form a balanced scoring attack.

Winnable road games are crucial to a team’s chances of getting into the NCAA Tournament in March. However, those two losses came against two teams currently atop the ACC standings. Miami moved to 5-0 with an upset over Duke at Cameron Indoor, and Louisville is 4-1, with their only loss being against Florida State.

Following the losses, Wake Forest returned home and got back on track with two straight victories. On Jan. 4, Florida State came to town. For a team that has been excellent in recent years, they have disappointed so far. The Seminoles struggled to score, shooting an abysmal 24.2% from the field. Wake Forest cruised to a 76-54 blowout win with a strong defensive performance and 58 combined points from Williams, LaRavia and Sy. 

The Demon Deacons followed that victory with a 77-74 overtime win over Syracuse. Williams made a tremendous pass to Walton, who slammed home a dunk at the end of regulation to force bonus basketball, where clutch free-throw shooting helped seal the victory.

Following the game against Duke, Wake Forest will travel to Virginia on Jan. 15 to face off against the Cavaliers.