If someone other than Jeff Bzdelik is coaching Wake next season, I'll definitely harken back to the last two games he faced Georgia Tech in Joel Coliseum.

As bad as last season's setback was -- which to me was the most inexcusable performance of the season -- today's 79-70 fiasco was worse.

To ever be relevant again in the ACC, the Deacons can't lose to struggling teams playing most of the way without their two best players.

And they know it.

"It was real damaging,'' Devin Thomas said. "We’re supposed to win the game.

"Codi’s out now. We’ve just got to get ready for (Duke on) Tuesday. That’s the only thing I’ve got to say.

"I know for a fact that the community’s going to start giving up on us, just like last time. The only thing we’ve got to focus on is just staying together. When we start getting back to our winning ways, they’ll start getting back on the bandwagon again.

"We don’t have to worry about that.''

Thomas, his eyes glistening from emotion, was hurting from the third-straight setback he has experienced against Georgia Tech, which he chalked up to the loss of Codi Miller-McIntyre to a sprained ankle in the final moments of the first half.

I wanted to use my stock line, "The next best thing to winning is to lose with a good excuse.'' I could have pointed out that Georgia Tech has been playing throughout the ACC season without Robert Carter, Jr,, who was leading the ACC with 9.3 rebounds a game when he tore his meniscus.

But I could see that Thomas wasn't in the mood for any wisecracks from a grizzled old sportswriter.

I did feel compelled to mention that the Georgia Tech got only eight minutes from its leading scorer, Trae Golden, who left the game in the first half with a pulled groin, not to return.

Thomas was having none of it.

"I think it’s safe to say that Codi’s more valuable to Wake Forest than Golden is to Georgia Tech,'' Thomas pushed  back. "I honestly didn’t realize until the end of the game that Golden wasn’t in the game. I don’t even know what happened. 

"Codi’s more valuable to us than Golden is to Georgia Tech. Who’s the back-up two for us? Miles (Overton). He’s really not that experienced. He’s been getting a little time here, but Codi gets in the gaps. Codi gets into the lane and finishes and he makes plays for himself.

"And that’s what we were missing in the second half.''

Bzdelik has coached some good games this season. He had the Deacons ready for the overplay by North Carolina's defense. The zone he resorted to proved to be the magic bullet against N.C. State.

But to earn his keep, he has to get his teams better prepared for the start of the game and the start of the second half.

Today Georgia Tech vaulted to a 12-6 lead, and started feeling really really good about itself. No foe wants a team that has lost six of eight to feel good about itself.

"Yeah we were sluggish, yes,'' Bzdelik said. "We missed a couple of layups out the gate and were a step slow defensively and let them get the ball to the rim.

"I thought that Georgia Tech was too comfortable early on shooting the basketball. They were just too comfortable and all of a sudden they gain confidence and momentum and we’re chasing.''

When asked about the Deacons slow start to both the first half, Thomas had his rejoinder ready.

"Don’t we always come out slow in the first half?'' he asked, the sarcasm just a dripping.

Travis McKie, playing as well as I've ever seen him play, gave the Deacons a fighting chance. Stepping up when Miller-McIntyre went down, McKie scored 18 of his career-best 26 points in the second half. His hell-bent drive for a viscious slam was the kind of play SportsCenter was invented for.

But unlike Thomas, he wasn't ready to pin the setback on the loss of Miller-McIntyre.

"I mean that’s a logical thing people would say,'' McKie said. "He’s a key part to our team. But we definitely had our chances. It’s not all on him to win the game.

"I think we lost the game when he went out, and they picked Devin to shoot the free throw. He misses it and they come down and make a buzzer beater three. Then the first two possessions of the (second half) they make two stops and now we’re down (13) and we’re fighting our tail off the rest of the game. So that was the difference.''

The injury to Miller-McIntyre could have come at a worse time. The Deacons will play at Duke Tuesday, and it would take a monumental upset to win in Cameron even with Miller-McIntyre. Wake will then get a week off before playing at N.C. State on Feb. 11.

I passed by Miller-McIntyre as he was signing an autograph in the corridor. I asked him if there was any chance of him playing at Duke, and his answer surprised me.

"I'm playing at Duke.''

We'll see, just as we'll see if Bzdelik can survive a second-straight home loss to Georgia Tech.




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