GREENSBORO, N.C. — Now that Wake Forest’s players have their final exams behind them, they can focus on basketball.
The results are starting to show, as the Demon Deacons overcame a slow start Saturday to beat UNC Greensboro 84-70.
Travis McKie scored 19 points and three other players finished in double figures for Wake Forest (6-5), which shot 52.9 percent (27 of 51) from the field and won its second straight game by double figures.
“We are getting better,” Demon Deacons head coach Jeff Bzdelik said. “We’ve been consistent, everybody’s understanding their roles. It’s coming together, and it’s coming together at the right time because of what’s ahead.”
Wake Forest had lost three of four games during a 10-day span covering late November and early December, a heavy academic time for its players, who had their exams during a 10-day break in the schedule.
With the exams and heavy studying over, the Demon Deacons can get back to the business of basketball, according to guard Chase Fischer.
“The break was a little strenuous, because we had to worry about finals and all that academic stuff,” said Fischer, who hit three 3-pointers and scored 13 points Saturday. “It’s a rough week, because you’re up all night studying. Now, all our focus is on resting, playing and practicing. It’s starting to show, because we were really locked in tonight.”
Not after the Spartans (2-8) – now 0-7 against Wake Forest and 1-47 against Atlantic Coast Conference teams – gave the Demon Deacons some problems in the first half.
Trevis Simpson scored 25 points, Derrell Armstrong had 16 and Kayel Locke 10 for UNC Greensboro, which led five times in the half before Wake Forest took control in the final minutes to lead 38-29 at the break.
“I didn’t think we were playing that well in the first half, but we were still right there,” Spartans coach Wes Miller said. “But every time we’d make a run, they’d make a play. Every time we made a good play, they’d make a better play.”
UNC Greensboro, which forced the Demon Deacons into seven turnovers and held them under 40 percent shooting for most of the half, last led 27-26 on Nicholas Paulos’ 3-pointer with 2:21 left. However, Wake Forest responded with a 12-2 run to close out the frame.
A pair of free throws by C.J. Harris with 2:05 remaining put Wake Forest on top 28-27, and McKie followed with a three-point play, Fischer drained a 3-pointer and Thomas hit a jumper to give the Demon Deacons some breathing room. Harris’ layup with 2 seconds left gave Wake Forest its biggest lead of the half.
“That gave us some separation and really helped,” Bzdelik said.
The Demon Deacons – who held the Spartans to just one offensive rebound, outscored them 36-22 in the paint and held an 8-0 advantage in second-chance points – extended their lead into double digits in the opening minutes of the second half, going up 40-29 on Thomas’ layup with 18:52 left.
Wake Forest went on to lead by as many as 15 points three times in the half, the last at 70-55 on a McKie dunk with 7:45 remaining. UNC Greensboro, which shot 42.4 percent (25 of 59), could get no closer than 11 the rest of the way.
“Every time we’d make a push, they’d come back and hit us with a dagger, every time” Simpson said. “We didn’t wear down, they’d just answer right in the middle of our runs and that would kind of put a halt to things.”
Freshman Devin Thomas had a season-best 12 points and Harris added 11 for the Demon Deacons, who now have 10 days off before their final nonconference game (vs. Xavier on Jan. 2). Wake Forest’s ACC schedule begins three days after that with a road game against No. 1 Duke.
“We’ve gotten two wins in a row now – everybody can have a happy holiday,” Harris said.