Demon Deacons lose late lead against NC State

The loss is Wake Forest’s second straight by single digit and third straight overall


Evan Harris

Cameron Hildreth shoots a contested layup.

Aaron Nataline, Sports Editor

The Demon Deacons (14-8, 6-5) are caught in a losing streak, and the event of a Big Four rival coming to Winston-Salem this past Saturday wasn’t enough to break the trend. Wake Forest fell to NC State (17-5, 7-4) 79-77 at home in a dispiriting second-half collapse. 

While the previous two losses versus No. 7 Virginia and Pittsburgh saw the Demon Deacons fight back from intimidating deficits in the final minutes, the Wolfpack managed to pull ahead only after trailing Wake Forest for about 25 minutes of game time. The evaporation of the once 11-point lead, for the most part, began as NC State forward D.J. Burns backed down anyone between him and the basket, again and again, before sinking a seemingly infallible hookshot. 

“Thirty-one points by D.J. Burns, it was an incredible performance by him,” Wake Forest head coach Steve Forbes said. “A lot of credit to [Burns], he played well. I’ve coached against him before when he was at Winthrop, so it wasn’t news to me.”

The Demon Deacons were not without a hot hand of their own. Redshirt junior wing Damari Monsanto (22 PTS, 8/15 FG) was more than reliable for the entirety of the game. With 11 minutes left in the first half, he tied the game up at 13 with a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Graduate guard Daivien Williamson lured the defense to the left before whipping the ball to the filling Monsanto, who froze the approaching defender with a jab-step and drained the shot from deep. 

Graduate guard Tyree Appleby (18 PTS) would secure the lead two possessions later with a mid-range jumper after weaving across the midline. The basket was the second of Appleby’s that would grant the Demon Deacons the lead, for the incredible off-balance shooter had converted a 4-point play just two minutes into the game. The remarkable play had thrown the crowd into a frenzy, and the fans kept that energy for the rest of the half as Wake Forest never again forfeited the lead, entering the locker room up 37-31. 

The second half began with a flurry of scoring from the Demon Deacons that left no room for suspicion that the momentum would soon unravel. Wake Forest scored on each of its first four possessions, three of which saw Cameron Hildreth (12 PTS) score or assist on each basket. 

Once the lead began to dwindle midway through the half, however, the trajectory of the game became clear. The Demon Deacons were low on the energy that got them to this point, and the Wolfpack — especially D.J. Burns — were ready to take advantage of it.

Play after play, the NC State guards would feed the ball to Burns, who would take his time using his size to post up any defender thrown at him and score, chipping away at Wake Forest’s lead one bank-shot at a time. If help defense poured in on either side to manage Burns’ progress into the paint, the big man would be quick to dish the ball out to a newly open teammate with an easy shot.

“You can go double him, and you saw what happened. The bottom line is you [have] got to guard your man one-on-one,” Forbes said. “We made him miss a few times in the second half, but there was one series where I think they got four or five offensive rebounds in one possession. It’s losing basketball, especially in a tight game like this.”

NC State really did pull down four offensive rebounds within one possession with 11 minutes left in the game. It culminated not only in a lay-up from Burns, but a streak that would prove devastating for the Demon Deacons — Burns wouldn’t miss another field goal for the remainder of the game, sinking each of his next six shots.

With sure-fire scoring like that, the lead trickled away from Wake Forest until it fully vanished with six minutes left in the game. One Wolfpack 3-pointer later and the home team was down 67-64.

The offense continued to produce for the Demon Deacons, but overtaking NC State necessitated better efficiency and defense than Wake Forest could muster. Monsanto knotted the game up at 73 with a step-back jumper with a minute and a half remaining, but rushed shots in the final possessions could not find the bottom of the net. With solid free-throw shooting in the last stretch, the Wolfpack retook and maintained its lead until the buzzer. 

The buzzer confirmed a third-straight loss for Wake Forest, and arguably a third-straight loss in which the energy was just not there for the full 40 minutes.

“It’s a 40 minute game,” Forbes said. “That’s the last thing that I said to the team. We got to play [for] 40 minutes. We can’t play 33, can’t play 35, can’t play 37. We got to play 40.” 

Appleby added his thoughts on what needs to change for games to end differently than they have for the past week.

“We gotta come out hungry,” Appleby said. “I think we got too comfortable when we got on our four-game win streak. We got what got us to that point, so we just have to get back to our old ways.”

The losing streak must end this week if the Demon Deacons want to hold onto its NCAA Tournament hopes. Wake Forest travels to Durham next to take on Duke University (15-6, 6-4) this Tuesday, Jan. 31.