Wake Forest loses heartbreaker to NC State

In the 90-74 loss, Damari Monsanto sustains a season-ending injury


Evan Harris

Tyree Appleby dives for the ball.

Sean Kennedy, Assistant Sports Editor

The Wake Forest Demon Deacons tried to avoid a season sweep against in-state rival NC State on Wednesday evening, only to fall short, 90-74.

National media hyped up the matchup as a battle between two of the best guards in the country. Wake Forest’s Tyree Appleby and the Wolfpack’s Terquavion Smith both entered the game as first and second in scoring in the ACC, respectively. Appleby himself looks to finish as the first ACC player in history to lead the league in scoring and assists, a feat that Alondes Williams came within a decimal of last season.

Despite the attention on Appleby and Smith, viewers of the Jan. 28 contest between the two squads in Winston-Salem knew to keep an eye out for NC State’s big man, D.J. Burns. Burns, a transfer from Winthrop, used his 6-foot-9, 275-pound frame in the first matchup to go for a career-high 31 points in a 79-77 win against the Demon Deacons last month. He scored 23 of his 31 in the second half of that win.

The start of Wednesday’s matchup picked up where the two left off in January. Each team traded buckets in the first few minutes, although on the NC State offensive end, the Wolfpack went to Burns quick and early. Burns got the ball in the post in three straight possessions, each time isolated against the Demon Deacons’ Matthew Marsh. 

While the Wolfpack went inside to Burns, the Demon Deacons saw Appleby get hot from deep early. It took two minutes for Appleby to knock down a slew of 3-pointers, and he had nine of the team’s 15 points to start off the game.

By the time the game was eight minutes in, the Demon Deacons saw six different players score, including multiple layups from sophomore Cameron Hildreth and a 3-pointer from redshirt junior Damari Monsanto. Freshman Zach Keller also got his first minutes in four games, taking over for Marsh a few minutes in and knocking down a shot at the free-throw line.

After Burns was subbed out to the bench midway through the first half, the Wolfpack saw another transfer shine — Jarkel Joiner. Joiner, from the  University of Mississippi, received ACC co-player of the week honors last week against UNC and scored 11 of NC State’s 17 points during a run that would give the Wolfpack its first lead of the night.

Soon after, Burns would re-enter the game, and both teams would begin to struggle offensively. Despite hot starts, they each began to freeze up, with the Wolfpack going on an 8-2 run over the course of five minutes of play. Four of those points came at the hands of Burns, who would finish the first half with 14 points.

Despite the Wolfpack run, the Demon Deacons only found themselves down six going into the last three minutes of the half and were able to tie the game back up after two threes knocked down by Hildreth and Monsanto. However, Joiner and Burns would combine for a few buckets to bring the deficit back up to five.

With 43 seconds left, Monsanto would hit another three — his third of the night and what would become his final of the season. 

Bringing the ball up with 10 seconds left on the clock, Monsanto made a move we’ve seen him do before — a behind-the-back where he plants his left foot and spins the ball around to his right hand — but the ball would never reach the hand, his legs collapsing under him. Joiner would grab the ball and head to the other end for a layup to send the Wolfpack up six, while Monsanto clutched his left leg near mid-court.

After the game, Head Coach Steve Forbes relayed the information that he would be having an MRI done on Thursday. Results came back that Monsanto suffered a torn left patellar tendon and needed season-ending surgery. Monsanto finishes the season a fan-favorite who battled back from an Achilles injury last season to score 13.3 points per game and has contributed greatly to the Demon Deacons’ success thanks to his outside presence.

“He is a strong young man, and he will overcome this latest setback,” Forbes tweeted after the diagnosis. “I love him, our staff loves him, and his teammates love him.”

After the halftime break, the previously-quiet Smith finally started scoring for the Wolfpack, with him and Burns scoring eight of the Wolfpack’s first 13 points of the half. The Wolfpack’s lead would go up to 11 while the Demon Deacons struggled to score again, going on a six-minute scoreless run before Andrew Carr knocked down a pair of free throws with nine minutes left to go.

Within the last eight minutes, the Wolfpack never faltered. A crucial sequence during which the Demon Deacons had an opportunity to get within six saw Carr slip at the last second, resulting in his defender contesting the shot and allowing the Wolfpack to get the rebound. Joiner then took the ball up in transition, and an unaware Wake Forest defender turned around a split second too late, allowing Joiner to knock down an open three. That swing took the Demon Deacons from down six to down eleven within a matter of seconds.

“I thought that was the biggest play of the game,” Forbes said postgame. “That was ballgame to me.”

Joiner would hit another pair of threes by the time hit zero, and Burns would get a couple of buckets inside, as well. The pair of transfers would combine for 50 total points, and the Wolfpack would win, 90-74.

As for Appleby and Smith, Appleby would win the battle between the two prolific guards, scoring 19 points on 46.2 FG% shooting compared to Smith’s 13 points on 35.7 FG%. Smith’s Wolfpack would win their tenth-straight home game at PNC Arena, however, and improved to 22-7 (12-6) on the season.

The Demon Deacons wrap up their homestand next Tuesday, Feb. 28, against the Boston College Eagles, which can be found on ESPNU. They finish their regular season in upstate New York next Saturday against the Syracuse Orange.