Second half frustration amounts to failure for Demon Deacons

Foul trouble and chaos cause dismay against Big Four rival
Andrew Carr (11) and Hunter Sallis (23) attempt to block a pass from NC State’s DJ Horne (0).
Andrew Carr (11) and Hunter Sallis (23) attempt to block a pass from NC State’s DJ Horne (0).
Isabella Parolini

It all seemed great from the start.

The game started perfectly for the Demon Deacons. They never let up their lead throughout the entirety of the first half. They had a breakout performance from one of their stars. The opposing coach was ejected from the game while Wake Forest was up by double digits.

Senior forward Andrew Carr took charge throughout the first twenty minutes. He’d gone into halftime with 19 points at the break —he’d finish with 28 points, a career-high.

Shortly before the halftime break, PNC Arena witnessed a one-sided shouting match between NC State Head Coach Kevin Keatts and referee Jeffrey Anderson. Keatts took multiple steps onto the court to argue a call, and Keatts was assessed a first technical foul. Keatts didn’t take kindly to that either. Within a span of a few seconds, he was ejected from the ballgame.

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Keatts’ ejection didn’t get into the minds of the Demon Deacons, who continued to go on a 14-5 run throughout the last four minutes of the first frame. Point guard Kevin “Boopie” Miller (21 pts, 15-15 FT) went to the foul line multiple times and went on a solo 8-0 run, as well. 

After halftime, the Demon Deacons were able to maintain their lead through multiple buckets from guard Hunter Sallis (12pts, 6rebs). Both teams struggled to score, and when they did, they traded baskets back and forth.

Hunter Sallis (23) turns and shoots a floater over his defender. (Evan Harris)

But then, the rails came off. 

“I told the team at halftime that you don’t win the game at half[-time],” Wake Forest Head Coach Steve Forbes said postgame. “They’re not giving out awards for the first half.”

After a foul called on Efton Reid III (7pts, 8rebs) midway through the second half, the Wolfpack went on a 12-2 run. While the Demon Deacons couldn’t score on the other end, the NC State guard tandem of guards Jayden Taylor (12pts, 5reb, 8-10 FT) and DJ Horne (21pts, 9-19 FG) each took advantage of opportunities shown to them on the offensive end.

“Credit to NC State and their guards,” Forbes said postgame. “Their guards outplayed ours. They were physical and guarded us better in the second half, and we played into their hands.”

The entirety of the Wolfpack’s scoring came within the three-point arc. The hosts did not make a single three-point shot during the full 40 minutes of game time, opting to pack the paint through forwards D.J. Burns Jr. (10pts, 5-9 FG), Mohamed Diarra (8pts, 13rebs) and transfer Ben Middlebrooks (14pts, 6rebs, 5-5 FG).

Middlebrooks himself became clutch over the stretch for the Wolfpack, leading his team in second-half points. The transfer from Clemson sank a layup while absorbing contact from Carr with under a minute to go. A whistle blew, sending Middlebrooks to the line — but not before chaos ensued.

As Middlebrooks celebrated his and-one, he inadvertently bumped into Sallis, who was walking away from the play. The two faced each other, leading for Anderson to assess a double technical foul on both players. After Sallis backed away, Diarra approached Sallis and lowered the crown of his head, head-butting Sallis.

The resulting consequences led to an ejection of the three players. Middlebrooks’ technical foul became his fifth personal foul of the game, leading to him fouling out. Meanwhile, both Sallis and Diarra were assessed “dead-ball technical fouls,” leading to their ejection as well.

Kevin “Boopie” Miller (0) and Mohammed Diarra (23) scramble for a loose ball. (Evan Harris)

In the concluding moments of the game, NC State’s Horne was caught making an obscene gesture towards an official. Horne later apologized via his profile on social media site X.

In response, the ACC issued a reprimand to Horne. Similar penalties have been levied by the conference before, with former Duke Blue Devil Grayson Allen receiving similar punishment for intentionally tripping Florida State’s Xavier Rathan-Mayes in February 2016.

After the chaotic moments subsided, Forbes attempted the tactic of sending NC State to the free throw line. The Demon Deacons were not able to erase the deficit in the last 40 seconds of the game, with the Wolfpack prevailing 83-76.

“We’ve let our fans down as well by losing an in-state game like this,” Forbes said.

The Demon Deacons have another crack at an in-state game against Tobacco Road rival North Carolina on Monday, January 22nd. They’ll face the No. 4 Tar Heels at 7 p.m. on ESPN.

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