It might be weird to say that a game played on January 5 is a must-win contest for a team that is 10-3, but that is the situation the Wake Forest Demon Deacons faced Sunday night when hosting the 10-3 North Carolina Tar Heels in the ACC opener for both teams.
With no real notable wins among their 10 victories on the season and being picked not to do much in the conference, Wake Forest needed to get off to a fast start against one of the toughest opponents it has faced to this point in the season. To succeed in the ACC, teams must win their home games and with four of their next five ACC games being away, the Demon Deacons had no choice but to beat North Carolina somehow.
Give full credit to the Demon Deacons (11-3, 1-0 ACC) as they beat the Tar Heels 73-67 on Sunday night, upsetting the 19th-ranked team in the country in the process. The amazing thing for Wake Forest is that throughout the game, they didn’t look like the typical underdog pulling an upset. The Demon Deacons played with poise, confidently drove to the basket on offense and matched up very well on defense. Travis McKie led Wake Forest with 16 points.
Despite Wake Forest’s record, the effort in Sunday’s win was one many probably thought the Demon Deacons weren’t capable of. Playing at home helped of course, but throughout the game and especially in the second half when Wake Forest built its lead to as high as 13, the Demon Deacons made smart passes, found open teammates and guarded the Tar Heels very effectively.
Sure, it got a little uncomfortable at the end as North Carolina began hitting shots from the field in their half-court sets and added multiple baskets in transition, but given the perceived gap between the teams, that’s probably no surprise. UNC had it down to 64-61 before a Wake Forest steal, McKie layup and North Carolina foul put the lead back to 67-61 with 1:03 to play.
What Wake Forest showed, at least for one night, is that the perceived gap between the teams isn’t nearly as great as most probably thought it was.
Wake Forest has a very tough stretch of its schedule coming up. The Demon Deacons’ next two games are at Virginia and Pittsburgh, two very tough defensive teams. Wake Forest comes home for a game against North Carolina State before hitting the road for a pair of games again, at Clemson and Virginia Tech.
To avoid the likelihood of a 2-4 or 1-5 ACC start, Wake Forest had to find a way to beat North Carolina. The Demon Deacons got it done, adding the signature win to their list of accomplishments. It can only do Wake Forest a world of good moving forward and in its upcoming travels.