WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — With most of the attention on a short Christmas break at home with their families, the Wake Forest Deacons focused just long enough Saturday afternoon to hold off UNC Greensboro 59-51 at Joel Coliseum.
The Deacons improved to 10-2, but the win was nothing close to a masterpiece.
“I can definitely say that some of us were ready to go home,” said guard Codi Miller-McIntyre, who scored nine of his 11 points in the final six minutes to help the Deacons pull away. “We’ve been stressed out about school and basketball a little bit, and this is actually the first chance where we’ll get to worry about just our families, and we’ll be away from basketball for a little while.”
Coach Jeff Bzdelik of the Deacons joked that some of his players were already home.
A strong defensive effort helped offset a Deacons’ offense that never had a flow and was bogged down most of the game. Devin Thomas and Tyler Cavanaugh led the way with 12 points each, and Thomas, as he usually does, controlled the boards with 13 rebounds.
Despite a season low in points, the Deacons ratcheted up their defense at the right times in the second half. The Spartans (6-7) shot 32 percent and were awful on 3-point attempts (1 of 15), and they fell to 1-50 all-time against ACC teams.
“Fortunately we defended well enough to keep us at least on top for most of the game,” Bzdelik said. “Our defense is what really won us this basketball game.”
The Deacons built an 11-point lead with 11:24 left, but Madison Jones missed two free throws and a chance to stretch the lead. The Deacons had 30 free throws but made only 13.
“Every once in awhile you are going to have games like this,” Bzdelik said. “We got to the free-throw line 30 times but that was like a turnover.”
The Spartans closed to 44-42 with less than seven minutes left. Coach Wes Miller then called a timeout and set up a play for shooter Nicholas Paulos, who just missed a 3-point shot for the lead.
A short time later, Miller-McIntyre started to go to the basket more, and it paid off. He scored on a layup with 5:15 left, then Arnaud Adala Moto’s steal led to another Miller-McIntyre layup that pushed the lead back to seven. The closest the Spartans came after that was 55-50, on Paulos’ layup with 1:20 to play.
“We kind of forgot we had a game today, but it definitely clicked for us in the second half when they made a run,” Miller-McIntyre said. “Then we realized we could really lose this game, and then Christmas would have been horrible. We had to do what we had to do.”
Miller-McIntyre took some of the blame for Wake Forest’s poor first-half performance. The Deacons led by 12 late, but the Spartans closed to 29-22 at halftime.
“The first half and even up until the last few minutes. I kind of resorted to what I did a lot last year,” Miller-McIntyre said. “But then I just started to go to the basket more. and either I was going to make it or get fouled.”
The Deacons played a large part of the second half without guard Coron Williams, who was poked in the eye and played just 16 minutes. He did return to the game in the final minutes.
Bzdelik said that Miller-McIntyre and Adala Moto did some nice things in the second half.
“He made some timely plays,” Bzdelik said of Miller-McIntyre. “He had a strong will that he didn’t want to lose this game. He willed his way to some buckets.”
Kyle Cain led the Spartans with 16 points and 15 rebounds, and Kayel Locke added 14 points.
The Deacons will meet up in Cincinnati as a team the day after Christmas to prepare for their Dec. 28 game against Xavier, but for now, most were looking forward to spending time at home.
“We’ll enjoy our break and get away from basketball,” Thomas said, “and then get after it on Thursday and get ready for Xavier.”