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'Covers the campus like the magnolias'
"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

Men’s basketball rises from Phoenix’s ashes

Down 21, the Demon Deacons rallies to win home opener
Isabella Parolini
Cameron Hildreth puts up a falling shot while driving to the basket. The junior guard led all scorers with 33 points during Monday’s opener.

The Demon Deacons (1-0, 0-0) welcomed fans to the regular season home opener on Monday night with a full-season experience in a single game as Wake Forest beat Elon (0-1, 0-0) by 23 after clawing back from a 21-point deficit. 

Led by junior guard Cameron Hildreth (33 pts, 6 ast, 5 reb, 2 stl), the 101-78 victory did not look likely after the first half of play. The visiting team shot above 60% from long range, where Elon sharpshooters found too much time to prepare their shot. Defensive rotations from the Demon Deacons could not close out fast enough, allowing the Phoenix to easily penetrate the passing lanes. This led to a 10-2 advantage in fastbreak points for Elon in the first half. 

Down 36-15 with just over seven minutes left in the first half, Wake Forest made a dent in the deficit by entrusting a two-man game between junior Hunter Sallis (19 PTS) and Hildreth. They put together 17 points before the buzzer to help the home team head into halftime only trailing by a manageable 12 points. 

Head Coach Steve Forbes equated the first half to getting “punched in the mouth” by Elon. 

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“I think a lot of it is just effort,” Forbes said. “I don’t think we had the urgency to play a D-I basketball game in the first half. We had to get more aggressive, blitzing ball screens and things like that. We just started on our heels, for whatever reason. And we had to get off of them.”

That aggression began peaking through for Wake Forest at the end of the first half when Elon snatched another steal in the final seconds, adding another pair of fastbreak points to the scoreboard if not for senior Andrew Carr (24 pts, 9 reb, 4 blk) pinning the ball beneath the backboard. 

Andrew Carr drives to the basket against an Elon defender. The senior forward finished Monday’s opener with 24 points, 9 rebounds and 4 blocks. (Isabella Parolini)

“Andrew Carr played one of the best games he has played here,” Forbes said. “He was really steady all game on offense and defense.”

Carr played a pivotal role in setting the right tone for the second-half comeback by earning and converting 3-and-1 plays to energize the fans and the team. During the second half, Carr was left to the center role in a small-ball lineup and embraced it with physicality by absorbing contact on turnaround shots from the left block. 

A major improvement in rebounding also paved the way for the Demon Deacons to storm back in the second half. The team went from being outdone on the glass in the first half (Elon, 14 reb, Wake Forest, 13 reb) to dominating the game of second-chance shots with 24 rebounds in the second half. Freshman Marqus Marion (29 min, 6 reb) not only helped Carr in this effort, but the forward also consistently sealed off the lanes Hildreth needed for his powerful drives. 

“Marcus [played] 28 minutes and was plus-26,” Forbes said. “What does that tell you? He makes winning plays. He’s a really good defender, they couldn’t get around him. I’m really proud of him.” 

Hildreth’s persistence in getting to the hoop is what gave the Demon Deacons their initial spark in the second half. He went from baiting a charge on the defensive end to earning a floater across the hardwood with just under 14 minutes left to give Wake Forest its first lead. The crowd erupted as Elon called a timeout to try to slow down the junior, who had scored 11 points in less than seven minutes since halftime.

“[Hildreth] is one of those guys that starts by leading in the locker room,” Carr said. “He was fired up [at halftime], trying to get us to rally — and he leads by example. So he was talking about being really tough and getting stops on defense and then goes out there and does the dirty work.”

Kevin “Boopie” Miller squeezes past an Elon defender on his way to the hoop. The sophomore guard finished Monday’s opener with 17 points, 5 rebounds and 2 steals. (Isabella Parolini)

Sophomore guard Kevin “Boopie “Miller agreed with Carr’s assessment of Hildreth.

“He starts that leadership in practice,” said sophomore guard Boopie Miller. “[Hildreth]… works hard in everything he does. That translates from practice to the game.”

Miller (17 pts, 2 stls) often set up fastbreaks for Hunter Sallis (19 pts, 3-7 3pt, 2 reb) and Hildreth by putting pressure on Elon’s hottest hands. Thirteen of Miller’s points came in the second half, with most of his field goals pushing a 9-0 run — and 20-point advantage —  during the last six minutes of the game. The transfer from Central Michigan gave credit to the crowd for matching the team’s energy during the comeback.

“I love the fans and all the energy they gave us,” Miller said. “The fans can take us a long way, just giving us that energy that we need to get defensive stops and make threes.”

The energy from the student section peaked as Carr obliged their chants for 100 points and put Wake Forest over the triple-digit mark with a turnaround jumper from the free-throw line. With that, the once 21-point deficit entered the books as a 23-point victory for the season opener.

The Demon Deacons travel to Athens, Ga. on Friday, Nov. 10 to play their first away game of the season. The game against University of Georgia (0-1, 0-0) tips off at 7 p.m.

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Aaron Nataline
Aaron Nataline, Sports Editor
Aaron Nataline is a junior from Cranford, NJ majoring in Psychology with a minor in journalism. He spends most of his time dominating the paint at the basketball courts or shamelessly watching reality TV shows.

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