WINSTON-SALEM (AP) — Brandon Childress scored 20 points, Jaylen Hoard added 17, and Wake Forest beat Western Carolina 71-64 on Tuesday.
The Catamounts’ upset bid was undone by poor foul shooting (16 of 32) and a trio of turnovers in the final minute. WCU led 63-62 with less than a minute remaining. But Hoard scored while being fouled, and Isaiah Mucius rebounded and put back the missed free throw to give the Demon Deacons a 66-63 lead.
After an exchange of free throws made it 67-64, Hoard stole an attempted inbound pass, was fouled, and made both of his foul shots. Mucius then stole the ensuing inbound pass, sealing the outcome.
“At least we learned from the mistakes we made at the end of our last game,” Hoard said of his team’s overtime loss to Houston Baptist last Friday, when the Demon Deacons squandered a 14-point lead in the final nine minutes of regulation. “It wasn’t a good game overall, but at the end, we fought.”
“They made winning plays down the stretch that we didn’t make,” Catamounts coach Mark Prosser said.
Wake Forest (4-2) jumped out to an early 21-3 lead, with Childress scoring seven of his team’s first 11 points. But WCU quickly ended any notion that the hosts would win comfortably, going on a 14-2 run of its own to pull within 23-17.
The Catamounts (2-6) took their first lead at 43-41 with 14:05 to play on a Marcus Thomas 3-pointer, but their ineptitude at the free-throw line proved too much to overcome.
Matt Halvorsen scored 19 points for Western Carolina, while Carlos Dotson added 14 points and 16 rebounds.
Wake Forest: It was a win, but Tuesday’s game was a continuation of an inauspicious start to the season for the Demon Deacons, who were picked to finish next-to-last in the Atlantic Coast Conference preseason media poll. With early losses to Saint Joseph’s and Houston Baptist, as well as a close shave against Western Carolina, finding success in the ACC may be a tall task.
Western Carolina: The Catamounts clearly came a long way from losing to Jacksonville State by 31 points on Nov. 20. But they will surely rue their missed opportunities at the foul line, and their struggles to keep possession, as they committed 19 turnovers.
Just before tip-off, the Wake Forest athletic department presented Prosser with a framed replica of the banner that hangs in the rafters at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in honor of his father, the late Skip Prosser, who coached the Demon Deacons from 2001-07 before he died from a heart attack.
“This place is very special to me and my family no matter what,” the WCU coach said of the pregame ceremony. “It’s very much appreciated, and we’ll treasure it. But there’s nothing that could happen that could make me have any more affinity for this place, this athletic department, this program.”
A TALL ORDER
Despite not playing a single player taller than 6-foot-7, the Catamounts managed to outrebound a lanky Wake Forest roster 37-35. “We should be better,” Demon Deacons coach Danny Manning said succinctly.
But Prosser was left to lament one rebound his team could not collect: Hoard’s missed free throw with 51.7 seconds left, when WCU could have taken possession down by only one point. Instead, Mucius grabbed the loose ball and scored.
“It’s not about one play, but a lot of it came down to that free throw block out,” Prosser said. “That’s a huge play that will stick out in our minds.”
THE LATE SHOW
Wake Forest led for 37:09, and its opposition led for less than a minute. But the Deacons found themselves trailing with less than a minute to play, mirroring their overtime loss to Houston Baptist, when they were behind for less than a minute of the 45 played.
Unlike that game, Manning was pleased with how his team responded to the late deficit against Western Carolina.
“I’m proud of the way the guys continued to fight, especially in those last minutes,” he said. “Obviously, that was very key for us.”