Demon Deacons’ comeback falls short at Pitt

Pitt’s 3-point shooting created problems for the Demon Deacons


Courtesy of the Associated Press

Matthew Marsh battles for a rebound.

Aaron Nataline, Sports Editor

The Demon Deacons (14-7, 6-4) braved unusual weather this past Wednesday away versus the Pittsburgh Panthers (14-7, 7-3), who were raining down a ludicrous number of 3-pointers all night. Although Wake Forest rallied with heart and heroics in the second half, the team fell 81-79 for its second conference loss in a row. 

The monstrous 3-point shooting from Pittsburgh began as a seemingly manageable drizzle early in the first half. The home team quickly took a 6-0 lead in the opening minutes with a pair of makes from deep, but the Demon Deacons answered with an 8-0 scoring run of their own. Two of the Wake Forest guards, graduate Tyree Appleby (15 PTS) and redshirt sophomore Damari Monsanto (9 PTS), hit their marks to quiet the opposing crowd. 

At that point, as a viewer, this exchange of buckets seemed like nothing out of the ordinary. Appleby’s soft hesitation move into a lunging crossover to slide behind the arc was as beautiful as always, but the Demon Deacons were simply matching the opponent’s efforts from deep. It was difficult to see what was coming, and in retrospect, it’s unfair how quickly I began shouting at the Division I athletes on my phone screen to close out the shooters. Because even from a table in the Benson Center, I was not ready. 

The next four consecutive baskets all came from 3-point range, all from Pittsburgh, all from the same two guards, Blake Hinson (24 PTS, 8/14 3PT) and Greg Elliot (18, 6/9 3PT), who had opened up the Panthers’ scoring. 

“[Pittsburgh] had 22 assists on 29 baskets and made 18 threes,” Wake Forest head coach Steve Forbes said. “They are a very unselfish team, they have good size and those guys all shoot the ball with confidence. We did a good job of guarding [Jamarius] Burton, but Hinson and Elliot dinged us up from three — I don’t think they shot a two the entire game.”

The Pittsburgh guards literally did not attempt a shot within the arc all game. While that is terrifying, it meant Wake Forest could own the front-court, scoring 34 points to the Panther’s 16 for the game. Sophomore guard Cameron Hildreth (15 PTS, 7 REB) is known for playing his best offense while bullying seven-footers in the paint, and he did just that. Coming out of the second media timeout of the half, Hildreth plowed through the help defense for a layup and then assisted on the next two scoring possessions to keep the game within reach.

Pittsburgh’s 15-point lead shrunk to a manageable 10 at the half after back-to-back herculean plays from junior Andrew Carr (14 PTS), as he followed an and-one floater with a breakaway dunk. The momentum was crucial, for the Demon Deacons carried it into the second half and never trailed by more than nine past 16 minutes remaining.

The Panthers barely slowed down, making 44.44% of their threes in the second half compared to their 52.63% mark in the first, but that slight difference gave Wake Forest the momentum they needed to stay in it. The defensive boost came in the form of a switch from their 2-3 zone to a 1-3-1, where Carr could terrorize the Pittsburgh guards from the top of the key.

Appleby (7 AST) distributed dimes all second half, two of which went to graduate guard Daivien Williamson, who was the only Demon Deacon that could match Pittsburgh’s 3-point shooting. Williamson (14 PTS, 4-7 3PT) often nullified Panther runs with his clutch shooting — and with his first three of the half, the Winston-Salem native notched his 1,500th career point. 

Williamson’s performance from the arc allowed Wake Forest to keep placing pressure on the Panthers. Their lead dwindled to just two with a minute left as the Demon Deacons made shot after shot.

“They are especially a really good offensive team,” commended Pittsburgh head coach Jeff Capel. “In the second half, we’re right there on them, and they make some tough shots. I mean Williamson, Appleby, Monsanto, they just put a lot of pressure on your defense.”

The Demon Deacons went on a crucial 7-0 run with two minutes remaining. The two-point deficit meant the chance for victory was in their own hands.

“They got a team that shoots 79% from the free-throw line,” Forbes said. “What are you going to do? We’re going to ride it out. It’s crazy because as poorly as we defended, we [forced] a shot clock violation on their last possession of the game.”

The shot clock violation allowed Wake Forest just five seconds on its last possession to tie or win the game. The final play began with a high screen that gave Appleby room to his left to make a move. His 3-point attempt couldn’t connect, and the clock ran out to dash any hope of a Demon Deacon comeback. 

After a loss against NC State on Saturday, Wake Forest will face Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Tuesday.