Cameron Hildreth falls to the floor on offense against NC State.

Men’s basketball loses two heartbreakers

A pair of two-point losses drop Wake Forest to 6-5 in ACC play

January 29, 2023

Demon Deacons’ comeback falls short at Pitt


Courtesy of the Associated Press

Matthew Marsh battles for a rebound.

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.

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Demon Deacons lose late lead against NC State


Evan Harris

Cameron Hildreth shoots a contested layup.

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.

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