Deacons bounce back with ‘buzzsaw’ performance

Wake Forest’s Daivien Williamson scrambles on the floor for a loose ball with Pittsburgh’s Jamarius Burton during the first half of Wednesday’s game at Joel Coliseum. (PJ Ward-Brown / North State Journal)

WINSTON-SALEM — The Wake Forest basketball team was looking to bounce back quickly from its worst loss of the season, last Saturday’s defeat at Syracuse.

It didn’t waste any time doing it Wednesday.

The Deacons hit their first three shots, all 3-pointers, built a double-digit lead by the first TV timeout and never looked back in coasting to a 91-75 victory against Pittsburgh at Joel Coliseum.

Alondes Williams barely missed his second triple-double of the season — coming up one assist short — while all five starters contributed 12 or more points and seven players hit at least one 3-pointer to help Wake get its mojo back and improve to 18-5 on the season (8-5 ACC).

“Recovering from an ‘L’ in college basketball is one of the hardest things to do,” graduate big man Dallas Walton said. “I told the first five as we were going out there that, I’m sorry, but these guys have run into a buzzsaw.

“I don’t care who we would have played, if it was Pitt or Duke. We were coming off a great week of practices and we were ready. We were ready to make a statement.”

Walton’s confidence proved to be contagious.

Alondes Williams scores two of his 15 points in Wake Forest’s 91-75 win against Pittsburgh on Wednesday. (PJ Ward-Brown / North State Journal)

The Deacons came out blazing hot on the offensive end, with Jake LaRavia hitting a pair of treys sandwiched around a 3-pointer by Daivien Williams and a pair of baskets by Dallas Walton to start the game. It set the stage for a first half that saw Wake shoot 60% from the floor with eight 3-pointers on the way to a final tally of 55% with 15 treys.

But while the scoring load was divided evenly between Williams — who had 15 points to go along with his 10 rebounds and nine assists — LaRavia (18 points) Walton (16), Isaiah Mucius (14) and Williamson (12), it was Wake’s work on the defensive end that turned the game into a rout virtually from the jump.

Anxious to make amends for a performance in which they allowed a season-high 94 points at Syracuse, including 30 by Buddy Boeheim, the Deacons aggressively swarmed the Panthers while forcing them to miss 10 of their first 12 field goal attempts.

The disparity on both ends of the court allowed Wake to open up a 16-3 lead after just 3½ minutes, an advantage that grew to 46-24 by halftime.

“We were playing good defense and some of the defense led to good offense,” said Williams. “We were just passing the ball around, getting everybody open shots.”

Although the defensive intensity began to wane as the game wore on, a factor that allowed Pitt (8-14, 3-8) to shoot 63.6% in the second half, coach Steve Forbes didn’t seem concerned. 

That’s probably because the lapse had little effect on the outcome thanks to the big early lead and the fact that the Deacons continued to score at a steady pace. A testament to the success Wake had in sharing the basketball came in the assist column, where it recorded 20 on 28 made baskets.

Wake Forest’s Jake LaRavia dunks during the second half of Wednesday’s win against Pittsburgh. (PJ Ward-Brown / North State Journal)

“All-in-all, I thought it was a great win for us and a great response coming back from Syracuse,” Forbes said. 

“There was no different sense of urgency, just we knew what we had to fix and we fixed it. That’s what good teams do. They see the problems and they try to be better. We have a mature group and they handled it very well.”

With the game all but decided and the teams essentially trading baskets for much of the final 20 minutes, the only real suspense coming down the stretch was whether Williams would add a second triple-double to the one he got against USC-Upstate on Dec. 11.

He got the last rebound he needed with just under two minutes remaining. But after getting fouled at the 1:10 mark, Forbes sent his freshmen and walk-ons to check-in at the scorer’s table.

“I knew he was one assist away, but I wanted those other guys to play,” Forbes said. “We’re not into this thing for personal stuff. We’re a team, so I knew he wouldn’t mind.

The coach said he thought Williams might miss the second free throw to stay in the game and try for his 10th assist. But the graduate transfer from Oklahoma, as a team player, said he wouldn’t have felt right doing it, adding that his younger teammates “deserve to get into the game.”

Femi Odukale led the Panthers with 23 points on 10 of 14 shooting while big man John Hugley added 17 points and 12 rebounds.