There was first a flash and then a glimmer of hope — and then this finale turned into what the majority of Wake Forest’s basketball games have been this season.
No. 14 Florida State didn’t lead until there was less than eight minutes left, but the Seminoles didn’t have to stress too much at the end of their 65-57 win against Wake Forest on Saturday at Joel Coliseum.
“Wore down a little bit, still competed. We did some good things,” said junior point guard Brandon Childress, who had a game-high 13 points. “We were in it for 30 minutes. We kinda wore down a little bit. Obviously with injuries, kinda hurt us a lot.
“But it’s no excuses. We still could’ve executed, we missed a lot of layups, a lot of open shots. I didn’t hit a 3 today. Had some good looks, didn’t go down for me.”
Wake Forest (11-19, 4-14 ACC) now heads to the ACC Tournament with an identical record as last season. Anything short of winning five games in Charlotte and then winning the national championship will result in the Deacons’ second straight 20-loss season, the third under Coach Danny Manning and fifth in program history.
If it’s any consolation, the Deacons put together two of their most-competitive games against top-tier ACC teams this week. A one-point loss at Duke on Tuesday and leading Florida State for 30 minutes are far cries from the team that played mostly non-competitive games against the NCAA Tournament-bound teams of the ACC.
The issue against the Seminoles (25-6, 13-5), who won 12 of their last 13 games to finish fourth in the ACC, was that Wake Forest shot 26.2 percent from the field (16 for 61). It accounts for the third time this season that the Deacons have recorded one of the 11 worst shooting clips in program history.
“Well, we got opportunities to make shots. We drove the ball, we made some good plays, we just didn’t make shots,” Manning said. “We only had eight turnovers for the game, which is really good against the type of pressure that these guys apply. But we had opportunity to make shots that and we didn’t make shots.”
The Deacons had four assists — boosted because Chaundee Brown passed to senior walk-on Anthony Bilas for a corner 3 in the closing seconds.
The reason that Wake Forest didn’t have more assists was an obvious one.
“Didn’t make shots. You can’t get an assist unless you make a shot,” Manning said. “You go back and I think we created a lot of good shots. Now, obviously, there could’ve been some better ones, but you know, we were missing catch-and-shoot shots, we were missing pull-up Js where we got the ball to the free-throw line, and we’ve just gotta do a better job of jumping up there and knocking those shots down.”
Wake Forest’s next chance to make shots will come in the ACC Tournament with a game against Miami on Tuesday, which is a team the Deacons split with this season. A win would mean a Wednesday date with Virginia Tech, and a win in that one would pit the Deacons against this Florida State team again in the quarterfinals.
The Deacons were hamstrung offensively after taking a 12-point lead early in the game. Wake Forest made five of its first eight shots — and made 11 of 53 for the rest of the game.
Florida State’s first lead came on a jumper by Trent Forrest with 7:34 left, giving the Seminoles a 47-45 lead. That was in the midst of an 18-0 run, which led to Florida State’s 58-45 lead.
“We just started missing shots, and they had the momentum and they pressured us 94 feet. They were in that 2-2-1 press and they denied Brandon the ball, especially in the first half,” Brown said. “They just picked up the pressure. They were driving gaps and getting layups, and I don’t think they had that many 3s.”
Florida State came in waves, per usual, and played 11 players — all of whom scored. Forrest was the only one in double figures, with 11 points. Senior center Christ Koumadje, the 7-4 tower who had 20 points and 12 rebounds when these teams played in February, had eight points and 10 rebounds this time.
“I think we played seven, maybe eight guys. It’s hard when a team keeps rotating guys in and out. I think Florida State played 10 or 11, and they’re known for that,” Brown said. “It’s different, but we’ve just gotta keep fighting, keep fighting. That’s it.
“First half, we got them. In the second half, we came out flat, like you saw. They’re known for their pressure. We fought, we fought, we fought, but that’s how it is.”
Senior walk-on guard Aaron Spivey, even with a cracked orbital bone and Manning saying he wouldn’t play, started the game. After Florida State won the opening tip, referee Tim Clougherty immediately stopped play to clean a wet spot on the court, and Brown checked in for Spivey.
Given the opponent, Wake Forest probably played the best opening six minutes it has played all season. To show for it, the Deacons led 14-2. In that burst, Wake Forest had five field goals.
For the other 14 minutes of the first half, the Deacons had two field goals. They maintained their lead on the strength of a 16-for-16 clip at the free-throw line, six of those coming from freshman Isaiah Mucius and four from Brown.
Wake Forest was without sophomore center Olivier Sarr for the fifth straight game, while graduate student Torry Johnson didn’t play after aggravating a shoulder injury against Duke. Johnson didn’t partake in Senior Day festivities, though, which means he’ll likely be back at Wake Forest next season.