Deacs Dig Down But Come Up Empty

College basketball coaches, I found, use the most descriptive phrases, and the more old-school the coach, it seemed, the more descriptive the phrase.

One I heard from Dave Odom many times was how the Deacons would have to get into the other team on defense to have a chance.

Well Wake Forest got into North Carolina hard enough to  stay in the game against the No. 13 Tar Heels for 40 minutes today at the DeanDome. Playing the caliber of defense I’ve rarely seen from a Deacons’ team since the days of Tim Duncan, Wake came oh so close to making this a weekend to remember forever up north of town on University Avenue.

Problem was, the Deacons stayed in the game until winning time, but didn’t know what to do once there. Consequently the Tar Heels, after managing points on just 13 of their first 32 second-half possessions, scored the game’s final eight points to pull out a 73-69 victory in the ACC opener for both teams.

Wake, leading by two with a minute remaining, didn’t need that 3-point attempt from Bryant Crawford.  They needed someone other than Doral Moore – who makes 55 percent of his free throws – at the line with 34 seconds remaining in a tie game, which became all-to-evident when Moore missed the front-end of a one-and-one.

But after Theo Pinson’s basket with 11 seconds left gave North Carolina the lead, what the Deacons really needed was to get the ball into the hands of Crawford. Danny Manning of the Deacons called time, ostensibly to direct his team to do just that.

As the final play of the game unfolded, I flashed back to the ACC championship of 1987. I’m old, so my mind tends to wander like that.

In 1987, in Landover, Md., Jimmy Valvano put the finishing touches on his Wolfpack’s upset of North Carolina by entreating the immortal Kelsey Weems (hyperbole alert) to, at all costs, keep the ball out of the hands of Kenny Smith on the game’s climatic play. Weems did just that, forcing Joe Wolf to dribble awkwardly upcourt to uncork a shot that missed badly.

Ranzino Smith rebounded and missed a last-gasp 3-pointer, and there was Jimmy V cutting down some more nets.

Today, in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels face-guarded Crawford and forced Woods to inbound the ball to Olivier Sarr. Woods got it right back, but never looked comfortable dribbling across half-court.

Maybe Woods could have gotten the ball back to Crawford in the half-court. I’m not sure. And maybe he panicked just a bit, and shot too soon. A case could be made.

But whatever the cause, Woods’ shot clanked off the rim into the hands of Kenny Williams.

Dan Dakich, as insufferable as he is, was right to say that Manning should have called time with Williams at the line with 1.9 seconds remaining. Why not?

Wake had two timeouts remaining, so why save either? And given that Williams was shooting a one-and-one, a miracle finish was not outside the realm of possibilities.

The thought apparently came too late to Manning, who tried but failed to get the time after the ball had been handed to Williams.

It’s hard to criticize a coach who loses by four on the road to a 13th-ranked team in the country, but the final moments did appear to unfold a little fast for the Wake bench.

But with Moore making his 7-foot presence felt inside, the Deacons did lock down on defense. And as I’ve said before — and will certainly say again — the story of Wake’s season will be told down at the defensive end.

Unfortunately, even the best defense can only keep a team in the game until the end. The trick is to know what to do once there.

One thought on “Deacs Dig Down But Come Up Empty

  1. It’s been apparent for a while that Manning needs bench help. As much as I didn’t care for either of them, someone on the bench like a Bobby Lutz or – horrors of horrors – a Jeff Bzdelik might serve him well, assuming Manning would listen to him.

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