Collins, Deacons show their poise in opening round ACC tourney win

Wake Forest foiled Boston Colleges strategy of double-teaming star big man John Collins by staying patient and hitting open shots from the perimeter in a 92-78 that moves the Deacons one step closer to an NCAA tournament bid

Anthony Gruppuso—USA Today Sports
Mar 7

NEW YORK — All-ACC big man John Collins didn’t just get held without a field goal for the first 26 minutes of Wake Forest’s ACC tournament opener against Boston College on Tuesday. He didn’t so much as attempt a shot. That would figure to be a recipe for disaster in a game the Deacons couldn’t afford to lose in their bid to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time in seven years. On this occasion, though, the uncharacteristic offensive drought was barely a distraction. That’s because Collins refused to get frustrated by the Eagles’ strategy to double team him every time he touched the ball on the low post. Instead of forcing up shots and taking his team out of its offensive rhythm, the 6-foot-10 sophomore was content to be a distributor. The attention BC paid to him left his teammates open from the perimeter and the trio of Austin Arians, Bryant Crawford and Keyshawn Woods made it pay by nine 3-pointers and getting to the free throw line 43 times on the way to a 92-78 victory at Barclays Center. The win improved Wake’s record to 19-12 while showing off a newfound maturity that has grown along with its NCAA chances over the past two weeks. “Their game plan was to come out and double-team John Collins every time he touched the basketball,” said coach Danny Manning, whose 10th-seeded Deacons advance to a second round matchup with No. 7 Virginia Tech at approximately 7 p.m. Wednesday. “I thought we did a good job of having patience, a little bit of poise, getting guys into open spots. I thought John did a good job of getting the ball out of the post to our shooters. We had some guys knock down some shots.” Arians was the first to do so, hitting three straight 3-pointers to key a 15-5 blitz to begin the game. The graduate transfer from Milwaukee maintained his hot hand for the remainder of the afternoon while making five of his seven attempts from long range. He finished with 17 points, his most in a Wake uniform. It was also his double-figure scoring effort in as many games against BC this season, a success for which he was at a loss to explain — other than that he was the beneficiary of an aggressive defensive strategy that didn’t go as the opposition planned “It’s just guys finding me and being aggressive and today the ball went in the first couple of times. That always helps,” Arians said. “John Collins is a first-team All-ACC player, so people have to pay attention to him. I think all of us on the outside benefit from that.” Woods also scored 17 points for the Deacons while Crawford led all scorers in the game with 20 points. Not only did BC’s strategy leave Wake’s perimeter players open for shots, its over-aggressiveness in executing it led to some serious foul trouble that saw two of its big men foul out and two others pick up four personals each. The inability to keep from fouling sent the Deacons to the line a season-high 43 times, leading to 33 points. The 15th-seeded Eagles (9-23) actually made two more field goals than Wake, but they were plagued by eight second half turnovers and a knee injury that sidelined second-leading scorer — and Havelock native — Ky Bowman for the entire second half. “Collins hurt us in both games we played (in the regular season), so we tried to neutralize him,” BC coach Jim Christian said. “You got to pick your poison, right? He’s probably the best offensive post player in the league.” He finally got a chance to show it once attrition and fatigue began to take its toll on the Eagles. Despite not taking his first shot until the 14:02 mark of the second half, Collins still ended up with his 16th double-double this season — finishing with 19 points and 12 rebounds. “Coach just stressed me to play harder, post harder, cut harder. There’s really no change in game plan,” Collins said. “He just told me to do what I’m supposed to do, play hard basically. I think I did that in the second half.” His first two baskets came as part of a 14-1 answer to a challenge that saw BC battle back to tie the game at 53 with just over 15 minutes remaining. Crawford also played a major role in the decisive run, with a steal and dunk, a pair of assists and two free throws to help open up a 67-54 lead that finally put the game away. “We responded okay, but I think we can do better,” Manning said. “We have to do a better job of staying in front of the basketball. But we were active. There were a couple times we strung together a few stops in a row that gave us a chance to create some separation.”