Gritty Deacons outlast Northwestern to give ACC rare Challenge win

Jake LaRavia's basket with 4.7 seconds left in overtime helped Wake Forest improve to 7-1 for the first time since 2008

Wake Forest's Jake LaRavia celebrates after the team's overtime victory against Northwestern in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge on Tuesday. (Allison Lee Isley / The Winston-Salem Journal via AP)

WINSTON-SALEM — Among the first things Steve Forbes set out to do after being hired as Wake Forest’s basketball coach in April 2020 was establish a winning identity for a program that had enjoyed only one winning season in the previous six years.

Eight games into his second season, that identity is beginning to take shape.

It’s a personality the colorful coach describes as GGTT, an acronym for Gritty, Grimey, Tough and Together.

All those qualities were on full display Tuesday as the Deacons held off Northwestern 77-73 at Joel Coliseum for their second overtime win in the past week.

“That’s what you saw tonight,” Forbes said after Jake LaRavia’s baseline jumper with 4.7 seconds remaining helped propel Wake to the win. “There were a lot of runs in the game, but we didn’t fold. We stayed tough.

“You want to know what we learned down in Florida (at the Emerald Coast Classic)? Well, we learned how to win in overtime.”

The Deacons beat Oregon State in overtime last Saturday.

This latest win was one of only two earned by the ACC in the first six games of its annual challenge with the Big Ten. More importantly, it improved Wake to 7-1 — its best start since a 2008-09 season in which it was briefly ranked No. 1 in the nation.

And it didn’t come easy.

The Deacons survived a nearly three-minute scoring drought at the end of regulation by holding Northwestern to just a single basket over that same span. Then after falling behind early in the extra period and trailing with as little as 1:32 remaining, they buckled down again and found a way to win,

They did so by putting the ball into the hands of LaRavia. The 6-foot-8 junior responded by making a tough fallaway jumper from the left baseline, then put the game away with a pair of free throws seconds later after Northwestern’s Boo Buie fumbled the inbounds pass in his haste to rush the ball upcourt.

LaRavia scored nine of his 21 points in overtime and made seven of his 10 field goal attempts overall to tie Alondes Williams for team-high scoring honors. Isaiah Mucius added 12 points for the Deacons.

“I’ve never had to beg somebody so talented to shoot the ball, because he’s so unselfish,” Forbes said of LaRavia. “He makes great plays when he doesn’t shoot. But there’s some times when he’s got to be more assertive, more selfish with the ball.”

That time came during the second half Tuesday.

“A little bit in the second half they were telling me to shoot the ball because I was stuck on 10 there for a while,” LaRavia said. “But in overtime they just told me to go make plays. That’s what I did.”

As a team, the Deacons made plays when they needed to all night. Every time the Wildcats (5-2) made a run to either get close or take the lead, Wake would answer right back to regain control. 

The most pivotal of those responses came during the opening five minutes of the second half. 

Northwestern closed out the first half with a 10-3 run to trim a 12-point Deacon lead down to five at 37-32. The Wildcats built on that momentum to take the lead with a quick 8-2 start out of the break.

But consecutive 3-pointers by Mucius and Daivien Williamson followed by a pair of Williams baskets put Wake back ahead and settled things down for the back-and-forth battle down the stretch.

Pete Nance scored 15 points to lead Northwestern, which outrebounded Wake 45-34. Fourteen of those rebounds came off the offensive glass. The Deacons won despite being outscored 14-0 on second-chance points.

“We didn’t finish the half great, then came out in the second half and went 8-0.” Forbes said. “I called timeout and we settled down. I was very, very proud of the response of our team. We came right back at them.”