WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - The great Bobby Bowden once said that sometimes another team just has your number and apparently Wake Forest has Virginia’s.
UVa showed up in this tobacco-stained town out of sync and unfocused on Wednesday night and paid the price, losing for the 10th straight time at Lawrence Joel Coliseum. This time it was by a 55-52 count to the host Deacons, who improved to 8-6 overall, 1-1 in the ACC.
The Cavaliers, who showed up on a roll, having won 10 of their previous 11 games, which was good enough to receive one point in the latest coaches top 25 poll, didn’t look the part. They started poorly, dug themselves in a 14-point deficit, one bucket too many to claw out of at the end, even with a late barrage of 3-pointers from Joe Harris and Evan Nolte.
Perhaps Deacons coach Jeff Bzdelik exposed the visiting Wahoos a bit by denying the 3-point shots and by throwing some full-court pressure against a more deliberate Virginia team in an attempt to quicken the pace.
At least a couple of the Cavaliers' veterans blew off the thought that Wake made them uncomfortable with the pressure, Virginia committed 17 turnovers, the second-most this season. The trio of 3-pointers, all coming in the final 54 seconds of the game, the team’s fewest in a month.
“The full court pressure didn’t faze us at all,” said UVa senior point guard Jontel Evans, who was clearly off his game (two points, three assists, four turnovers). "Guys were careless with the ball, especially myself. We were out of sync all night.”
Junior Joe Harris, whose pair of treys with Deacon defenders hanging all over him in the final 16 seconds, finished with 13 points, but said the Cavaliers were disjointed throughout the evening.
“Maybe at times we rushed things (against Wake’s pressure) and had uncharacteristic turnovers, but things were really out of sync,” Harris said. “I don’t know exactly what you could pin [the performance] on. We lacked focus, energy, you name it. We didn’t come ready to play and we didn’t deserve to win this game.”
The ACC road is always filled with land mines and this young Virginia team learned a valuable lesson. Its freshmen, with the exception of center Mike Tobey and his team-high 14 points, mostly played like freshmen making their first conference road trip. The veterans didn’t fare much better.
As a result, Wake Forest, a team that has struggled mightily this season, has now beaten Virginia in seven of the last eight meetings. Play this one on the Moon and the Deacs likely find a way to beat the Cavaliers.
Coach Tony Bennett wasn’t happy with the trip. His team violated both of the tenets that are closest to his heart: valuing the basketball and playing suffocating defense. Neither was in effect for most of this outing.
For a team that ranked in the nation’s top seven in exactly seven defensive catagories, you could have fooled the half-empty arena on this January night, especially in the first half. Wake had its way with the Wahoos in the paint, converting 52 percent of its shots by the break and 41 percent for the game.
This is how bad it was: Wake didn’t make a single basket the final 10:22 of the game and still won. In fact, after the Deacons built their greatest lead (14 points, 44-30 with 11:20 to play), the Cavaliers outscored them 22-9 the rest of the way and still couldn’t win.
Too deep a hole. Still, Virginia had a chance to pull off a miraculous finish.
Harris hit a shot from Bonusphere with 16.5 seconds to play, cutting Wake’s lead to 52-49 before the Deacs converted only one free throw for a 53-49 advantage at the 16-seconds mark. Harris nailed another 3-pointer with about a 10-degree difficulty with 6.3 seconds remaining to draw within a single point.
But the Cavaliers had no choice but to foul deadeye C.J. Harris at the end, an 80 percent free throw shooter, and he nailed both shots for the 55-52 outcome. Virginia mishandled the final possession and didn’t get off a shot, falling to 11-4 overall, 1-1 in the ACC.
“I didn’t lose hope at all,” Harris said afterward. “I still believed we had a shot at the end. Coach put us in the right spots at the end. We were just one play short.”
That’s life on the road in the ACC and clearly the Cavaliers weren’t ready for the experience. It’s not like Joel Coliseum is a raucous atmosphere, or had the intensity and intimidation of Cameron Indoor.
No, this one was there for the taking and Wake was just more aggressive and focused than their visitors, fresh off a late-night win against a less-than-impressive North Carolina team last Sunday night.
“This is what the ACC is all about,” Evans said after his second game back from an early season foot injury. “You have to grind it out. I got off to a very poor start. Me being the lead guard and a senior, I can’t allow my team to get off to a start like that.
“I definitely take this loss upon myself,” Evans said. “I blame it all on me.”
While he delivered a far less robust performance than he did against the Tar Heels, and while it was noble of him to accept the blame, few of the Cavaliers could exit the arena feeling good about themselves.
Even though they dominated the boards by a 40-24 count and grabbed 17 rebounds to only five for Wake, the Cavaliers couldn’t take advantage.
“When you go on the road, you have to bring an approach where you’re willing to execute, have a level of steadiness and composure on both ends and we got out of sync,” UVa coach Tony Bennett said. “Some of it was uncharacteristic.
“This tape is going to be hard to watch,” Bennett said. “You can’t pinpoint any one thing, but rather a lot of areas.”
Today’s film review won’t be a fun hour for the Wahoos. They’ll likely pay for their sins on the practice court with an unhappy coach reminding of the error of their ways.
“As much as this one strings,” Harris said, “I guarantee we’ll come more prepared to play (at Clemson on Saturday).”
After last Sunday’s win over Carolina, Bennett danced and allowed his team only 15 seconds to celebrate the conquest, then put it behind them. Maybe it would be wise to only suffer this setback for 15 seconds and move on.