It took six tries, but Wake finally gave Jim Boeheim something to really whine about tonight at Joel Coliseum.
Known almost as much over the years for his bellyaching as his Hall-of-Fame coaching acumen, Boeheim was actually, best I could tell, on his best behavior after the Deacons beat Syracuse 73-67 for their first ACC victory. No grousing about the calls. No grumbling about having to eat at a Denny’s. No we-wuz-robbed kvetching at all, at least none that I could detect listening to the post-game video provided so graciously by the Syracuse Post-Standard.
People I know who know Boeheim say he’s a prince of a guy. And you certainly don’t have to read this to know he’s one of the greatest college basketball coaches ever. His 915-360 record, all of it fashioned at Syracuse, his alma mater, assures his spot in the sport’s pantheon.
Not only that, but I might, in a weak moment, even admit that I’ve enjoyed Boeheim’s acidic, dripping sarcasm on certain occasions. We might have heard some tonight but, again, not being there in person, I couldn’t be sure.
Maybe he was ripping his guards when asked about his team’s paltry nine assists. Or maybe he was just explaining that passing is not this team’s thing.
“We don’t get assists,’’ Boeheim. “We dribble-drive mostly, and try to score that way.’’
Tonight the Deacons beat Syracuse for the first time by containing the dribble-drive well enough to get stops on 20 of the Orange’s 35 second-half possessions. What’s more, they allowed Syracuse only six offensive rebounds.
The Orange, a team that can hurt you as bad on the second shot as the first, managed only 11 second-chance points. Coach Danny Manning of Wake will tell you that’s too many, but he knows that this night he didn’t get beat on the boards.
He’ll also tell you his team won the hard way, by playing the second half without leading scorer Keyshawn Woods and most of the final 10 minutes without center Doral Moore. Woods injured his knee in the first half, and his availability for Saturday’s game at BC may or may not have been determined – but wasn’t revealed. And Moore picked up his fourth foul with 10:36 left and sat the next eight minutes.
Earlier the Deacons were losing games at the defensive end, especially in the second half and especially, especially down the stretch. So Manning has to be encouraged to see the Deacons make a second-half stand for the second game in a row. The Deacons got 19 stops on 36 possessions Saturday at North Carolina, which means the last two teams have scored on just 44 percent of their second-half possessions.
If Wake plays defense that well at BC and as the season progresses, it might even be playing games that matter come March. Given the pratfall out of the gates, that would be some accomplishment.
I did like the way Manning mixed in the zone tonight, but I noticed that at winning time he went man and the Deacons responded by getting stops on seven of the final 10 possessions.
Wake’s three biggest offense plays, in the mind of Boeheim as well as my own, were the three 3-pointers out of the left corner, the first two by Bryant Crawford and the third by Chaundee Brown. Just when I was wondering what all the fuss was about this Brown guy, he nailed that trey for a 55-53 lead with 4 ½ minutes to go.
He even acted like he meant to make it, impressive for a freshman who had missed all five of his earlier shots from the floor.
Baskets by Terrence Thompson (off a nice feed by Brown) and Brandon Childress put the Deacons ahead to stay for the final two minutes, though a well-placed mic might have picked up the teeth-gnashing on the Wake bench when knock-dead free-throw shooters like Mitchell Wilbekin, Bryant Crawford and Childress kept missing free throws.
I thought Wake had made a mistake by inbounding to Olivier Sarr with 19 seconds left in a two-point game.
But Sarr sure showed me by draining both, then hitting two more with seven seconds left for good measure.
Manning and his players had good reason to be feeling pretty good when walking out the back door of the Joel in the bitter winter wind. It’s not every day, after all, that Wake beats Syracuse in basketball.
Before tonight, it wasn’t any day.