BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Wake Forest’s season came to an end on the first day of the ACC Tournament after a 73-64 loss to Syracuse.
The Demon Deacons never led in the game and fell behind 20-4 at the start of the contest.
“We came out flat,” said Wake guard Bryant Crawford, who led the Deacs with 22 points and six assists. “They came out with way more energy than us.”
Just when it seemed that Orange coach Jim Boeheim was going to cruise to his first-ever ACC Tournament victory, Wake’s Danny Manning found an adjustment that worked, switching to a zone and spurring a rally that cut the margin to six at the half.
“When they switched to a zone, we couldn’t make shots,” Boeheim said. “In the second half, we attacked the zone better.”
The Orange came out of the locker room with an 8-2 run to gain some separation. The second-half rally for Syracuse was led by an unlikely hero: Marek Dolezaj, who was sixth on the team in scoring with a 4.7 points-per-game average. The freshman from Slovakia had scored a total of 16 points in his last four games. Dolezaj lit up Wake Forest for 16 second-half points and finished the night with a team-high 20, eight more than his previous best game.
“When they went to the zone, they left him open in spots,” Boeheim said, “and he converted. He took them to the basket. In the middle of that zone, if you don’t guard him in the high post, he can make that shot.”
Manning admitted he was willing to risk having Dolezaj beat him, in an effort to take away scoring threats Tyus Battle, Frank Howard and Oshae Brissett.
“That’s the scouting report,” he said. “They have three guys you try to take away. (Dolezaj) did a good job finding open areas and getting to the rim.”
The loss finishes Wake’s year at 11-20. The Deacs lost seven of their last nine games, all by 10 points or fewer.
“We just couldn’t get over the hump,” Manning said. “Most games in league play, we had the lead in the second half and just couldn’t finish.”
Wake will lose senior Mitchell Wilbekin and graduate student Terrence Thompson but is scheduled to return its top four scorers.
Syracuse, meanwhile, will continue playing, in the hopes of getting on the positive side of the NCAA bubble. The Orange, 20-12, will get the chance to impress the selection committee on Wednesday night, against the defending national champion Tar Heels. Syracuse lost a 78-74 decision to North Carolina at home late in February, after making a big second-half rally.
“We just need to finish the game,” said Syracuse guard Frank Howard, who had 11 points, five rebounds and five assists in the win over Wake. “They attack the zone well, but we had some turnovers late that we need to clean up.”
“We’re confident against anyone we play,” said Tyus Battle, who had 18 points and six rebounds. “We don’t care who it is.”