Wake Forest falls shy of comeback against Pitt, eliminated from ACC Tournament

The Demon Deacons nearly came back from a 19-point deficit in the second half
Hunter Sallis (23) left arm is grabbed by Blake Hinson (2) during a controversial no-call in the second half.
Hunter Sallis’ (23) left arm is grabbed by Blake Hinson (2) during a controversial no-call in the second half.
Evan Harris

The Demon Deacons couldn’t hit their stride until it was too late. 

Despite climbing out of a massive hole in the second half, Wake Forest (20-13, 11-9) couldn’t save its ACC Tournament quarterfinal matchup with Pitt (22-10, 12-8), eliminating the Demon Deacons from the bracket. 

Wake Forest started off the game with arguably one of its worst offensive halves this season, scoring just 26 points and getting outrebounded 21-13 in the first period. 

Coming into the second half, the Demon Deacons needed to make a dramatic turnaround on offense to even have a chance. Junior guard Cameron Hildreth (23 PTS, 3 REB, 2 AST) said that started with getting key stops on defense. 

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“I think it all starts with our defense, that transitions to offense,” Hildreth said after the game. 

Trailing by 19 with over 13 minutes remaining in the game, Wake Forest finally found something of an offensive rhythm. Stepping up on both sides of the ball, the Demon Deacons went on a 9-0 scoring run, eventually making it a one-possession with just under four minutes to play. 

“I say it looked like we kinda woke up a little bit,” junior guard Hunter Sallis (15 PTS, 4 REB, 4 REB) said after the loss. “We knew we had to get something going with the time.” 

But with an opportunity to tie the game in front of them, Wake Forest’s momentum was stunted by a controversial no-call shooting foul on Sallis that Forbes later called “obvious.” 

Regardless, Wake Forest also let up on defense in the final few minutes, allowing Pitt to make open transition shots or draw fouls at the rim and run up the score. 

“We got it back to three, unbelievable fight in our team,” Wake Forest Men’s Basketball Head Coach Steve Forbes said. “We just didn’t get any crunch time stops. They just bullied their way to the win and either shot layups or fouls.” 

“We got more to play for … It’ll be the NCAA or the NIT.” 

— Wake Forest Men's Basketball Coach Steve Forbes

Regardless, Wake demonstrated its ability to dig itself out of a hole by improving on both sides of the ball throughout the second half. 

“Wake showed incredible character and why I think they’re an NCAA Tournament team,” Pitt Men’s Basketball Head Coach Jeff Capel said postgame. “They fought back and they continued to play. They had guys that made huge plays for them.” 

The Demon Deacons couldn’t hold on to complete the comeback, but Forbes and his players agreed that their season will have more games worth playing. 

“We got more to play for,” Forbes said. “It’ll be the NCAA or the NIT.” 

While the loss to Pitt does effectively eliminate Wake Forest from making the NCAA Tournament, Forbes noted that his team’s slim chance of making the March Madness bracket still rests with the tournament’s selection committee. 

Forbes indicated his own sense that the committee could be somewhat sympathetic to Wake Forest. According to Forbes, junior center Efton Reid’s absence from the first six games of Wake’s season may factor into the committee’s consideration of the team. 

For now, Wake Forest will look forward to Selection Sunday this weekend when the seeds for the NCAA Tournament are announced at 6 p.m. EST on CBS. The National Invitation Tournament’s (NIT) selection show will follow at 9:30 p.m. EST on ESPN2.

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