CHARLOTTE — Momentum might as well be in the eye of the beholder, at least for Wake Forest’s men’s basketball team.
The Deacons have lost three straight games entering their game against Miami in the first round of the ACC Tournament. Wake Forest hasn’t won consecutive games since the calendar read 2018 — and hasn’t won three straight since it was 2017.
“I feel like we’ve been playing a lot harder, more consistently and stuff,” freshman Jaylen Hoard said Monday after the Deacons’ open practice. “I feel like we’re doing pretty good, not really good, but pretty good. We’re going in the right direction, we’re going to try to keep building on that against Miami.”
Here are five things to watch in Tuesday’s game at Spectrum Center:
1. Part III
This is the third time that Wake Forest and Miami will play this season, and it’s the fourth straight year — despite the league’s expansion and limited repeat opponents — that Wake Forest will face an opponent for the third time in the ACC Tournament. In 2016, Wake Forest lost to N.C. State after splitting in the regular season; 2017, Wake Forest beat Boston College all three times; and 2018, Wake Forest lost to Syracuse after splitting in the regular season.
Wake Forest’s 76-65 loss at Miami came Jan. 12, and the Deacons won 76-75 on Feb. 26 — their most-recent win.
The second game between the two teams saw Wake Forest’s only ACC game with two 20-point scorers, as Chaundee Brown and Brandon Childress had 21 apiece — Childress sinking the game-winning shot in the final minute. That capped Wake Forest’s comeback from down 10 with 1:59 left, which is the only time in program history that the Deacons have overcome a double-digit deficit in the final two minutes.
2. What’s different?
Wake Forest enters the ACC Tournament in a nearly identical spot as last season. The Deacons are 11-19 overall and 4-14 in the ACC, both the same. The only thing different is that Wake Forest finished 13th in the ACC this season instead of 14th.
Obviously, because of eight player departures throughout 2018, personnel has changed too.
“I’ve said it all along, I like our talent level. I think we have some guys that are going to continue to grow and develop,” Coach Danny Manning said after Saturday’s loss to Florida State. “But we took our young guys and we threw them out to the wolves. That’s what happened. And they competed and they battled, especially these last two games.
“And they understand that’s the energy level and that’s the effort level that you have to play at to have a chance to have success in this league.”
3. Deacons’ health
Wake Forest was without sophomore center Olivier Sarr for the fifth straight game in its loss Saturday to Florida State, and he said in the locker room Monday that he’s not going to play against Miami.
“I mean, it’s really frustrating because as a player, you always want more,” Sarr said. “And knowing that you can’t play the next game, it’s really frustrating. But, it is what it is.”
Graduate transfer Torry Johnson, though, practiced Monday after missing Saturday’s loss because of a shoulder injury. The injury occurred last week during the first half against Duke, but Johnson played through the game.
Hoard has played the last three games with his right wrist taped, and it was taped again during at Monday’s practice. The freshman forward said the injury occurred in the win against Miami, and that it causes pain — mostly when he shoots and dribbles.
4. Still-limited Miami
The Hurricanes’ depth — or lack thereof — hasn’t changed since early December.
Miami sticks to a seven-player rotation because of injuries and the NCAA’s ruling that Dewan Hernandez is ineligible to play this season. The Hurricanes’ Anthony Lawrence, Chris Lykes and Dejan Vasiljevic all ranked in the top 25 in the ACC in minutes per game.
5. Revenge-minded Miami
On the other side of Wake Forest’s 10-point comeback against Miami was that the Hurricanes choked away that lead.
“We’re going to approach Miami not like they’re a bad team. They beat us for a reason, they have good players,” junior point guard Brandon Childress said. “We’ve just gotta be well-prepared for it.”