Directly faced with the very real possibility of taking its first (extremely) bad loss of the season, Louisville outscored Wake Forest 52-30 after halftime on its way to an 86-76 win over the visiting Demon Deacons Wednesday night inside the KFC Yum Center.
For 20 minute, the visitors looked nothing like a team that entered the evening one game under .500 overall and tied for last in the ACC with a 3-8 mark. Wake Forest knocked down five of its first seven three-point attempts, racing out to an early lead that would eventually grow to as large as 15. Despite a brief U of L spurt, the Deacs still carried a 46-34 advantage with them into the locker room, the largest halftime deficit the Cardinals have faced this season.
That 12-point advantage almost completely evaporated before the first TV timeout of the second half. When play finally halted with 15:54, Ryan McMahon was a free-throw away from completing a 4-point play and trimming the Wake lead to a single point. Louisville took the lead moments later on a Jordan Nwora dunk and never gave it back.
Nwora, who knocked down five of his eight three-point attempts, led all scorers with 21 points. Dwayne Sutton notched the 10th double-double of his college career, fighting (literally it seemed like at times) to 15 points and a game-high 11 boards. Fresh Kimble (14), Ryan McMahon (12), Steven Enoch (11) and Malik Williams (11) also produced double-digit scoring efforts.
For the game, Louisville shot a blistering 14-of-28 from three. Despite its hot start, Wake finished an average 8-of-25 (32.0 percent) from deep.
On one hand, U of L responded to what seemed like a very dark moment the way a championship team is supposed to. On the other, a decent chunk of that dark moment was created by the Cardinals themselves. Sure, Wake played out of its mind in the first half, but the defense was a far cry from what we’ve seen over the last few weeks. That wasn’t the case in the second half, but again, it shouldn’t take staring a potentially humiliating loss directly in the face to elicit that type of effort.
All that being said, I’m not going to get overly worked up about this one. Wake has played everyone in the conference close but Duke, and they finally have a nearly completely healthy team for the first time pretty much all season. That’s not an excuse, but it’s at least a partial explanation for what was a fairly shocking first hour inside the Yum Center. If the good guys hadn’t responded the way they did, it would have undone so much of the good that had been built over the last four weeks. Thankfully, they did respond.
Also, this team is still shooting the absolute shit out of the ball. Not a bad weapon to have at your disposal with the best defensive team in the country coming to town this weekend.