Of the handful of times I followed Wake Forest to Miami during my days as the Winston-Salem Journal’s beat reporter, I never saw an ACC basketball game down there.
The Hurricanes, for the record, joined the conference in 2004-05. But even so the games I covered at what was then known as BankUnited Center did not in any way resemble ACC basketball as I had to come to know it in my long service on the beat.
The stated capacity for BankUnited, known today as Watsco Center, is 7,972, but there was never anywhere close to that for a game against Wake.
Now when Duke or North Carolina hit town, I could see on TV that the place would be rocking.
But not for Wake.
I would arrive in South Florida to find no buzz at all. Miami being a pro town, I’d have to scour the local papers for any mention of the game. The arena would be, at best, two-thirds full and to watch the Deacons play in front of around 5,000 sun-worshipers who had wandered over to Coral Gables reminded me of covering a game in the Southern Conference or, at best, the Colonial Athletic Association.
The downward spiral of both the newspaper industry and the fortunes of Wake basketball led the Journal, by the end of my days there, to save the $800 it would take to cover the Deacons at Miami. Instead we would hire what we call a stringer, a local writer who knew the scene and the game well enough to knock out 600 words and email it in.
And that, as expected, is what the Journal did for Wake’s 87-81 loss last night. I thought for a stringer report, the one filed by Walter Villa, Special to the Journal, was more special than most I’ve read. I did like the way Walter developed the angle between Bryant Crawford of Wake and Chris Lykes of Miami, who were high-school teammates at Gonzaga College High School in D.C.
But watching the game from the comfort of the living room of our hacienda, I wondered how the atmosphere at Watsco Center, or decided lack thereof, was affecting the proceedings.
I do know that Miami could have easily been looking past Wake, which, after all, had lost eight of its previous nine. And I recognize the Hurricanes are probably accustomed to playing in front of sparse, listless crowds.
And I’ve also made mention a couple of times recently how much Wake has improved defensively since December. The latest ACC statistics show that the Deacons rank No. 14 (out of 15 teams) in field-goal percentage defense in all games (.436) but No. 8 in conference games (.439).
Yes I see the percentage has risen, but so has the level of competition.
For all that, the Hurricanes just didn’t look “into it,’’ as we used to say back in the 70s, over the first 25 or so minutes. Keeping track at home, I charted the Deacons getting stops on 18 of Miami’s 33 first-half possession, and on nine of the Hurricanes’ first 13 trips across half-court after halftime.
Then suddenly, without so much as a gale warning, the Hurricanes blew through Wake’s defenses like Irma hitting Homestead. The devastation was such that Miami scored at least one point on 22 of its last 25 possessions.
Teams don’t win on the road in the ACC – or even a facsimile of the ACC – giving up points on 22 of 25 possessions, no matter how many 3-pointers they might hit in the final three minutes to make the score seem at least respectable.
Wake, in Danny Manning’s fourth season as head coach, is a bad team. Just how bad will be determined over this next month as the Deacons try to avoid plunging past Pitt into the conference basement.
A bad team playing bad basketball in front of a bad scene. There are many nights I’m glad to be no longer doing what I did for a living for 40 years.
Last night was certainly one of them.