Surprise buzzer-beater lifts Wake past Charlotte

Alondes Williams found teammate Isaiah Mucius for a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired to give the Deacons a thrilling 82-79 victory

Isaiah Mucius (center) is mobbed by his Wake Forest teammates after hitting a game-winning buzzer-beater against Charlotte on Friday (PJ Ward-Brown/North State Journal)

CHARLOTTE — Everyone in Spectrum Center knew what was coming on Wake Forest’s final possession with the game on the line Friday.

Deacon star Alondes Williams, who was on the court for all but 46 seconds of the game and had already scored 34 points in a shootout against Charlotte, was going to have the ball in his hands with a chance at producing the winning basket.

And that’s exactly what happened. Only with one slight twist.

While Williams’ teammates did clear out to give him a lane to attack the rim on the final possession, the Oklahoma transfer didn’t take the last shot. Instead, as the defense converged on him, he threw the 49ers a curve by passing the ball to Isaiah Mucius.

Squared up, left all alone and ready to shoot, Mucius drained the 3-pointer as time expired to give Wake an 82-79 victory in the finale of a four-game Hall of Fame Shootout event in Charlotte.

“I’ve been saying it for a long time about Alondes. Even though he’s a tremendous scorer, he’s a really great passer and he’s very unselfish,” Wake coach Steve Forbes said. “That’s what a great scorer does when he draws all the attention at the end of the game, he finds the open man and he has confidence in each other to make the play.”

Wake Forest’s Isaiah Mucius hits his game-winning shot as time expired Friday night in Charlotte. (PJ Ward-Brown / North State Journal)

The final sequence began following a timeout after Charlotte’s Clyde Trapp made a 3-pointer of his own to tie the game at 79 with just under a half minute left.

The play called for Williams to hold onto the ball until the final eight seconds, then create a scoring opportunity by taking his man one-on-one to the basket.

The problem is, Charlotte was waiting for him.

“We defended the last possession exactly the way that we talked about,” 49ers coach Ron Sanchez said afterward. “As a competitor, you tip your hat when individuals make exceptional plays. We did not think he would pass it. We thought he would definitely go out and shoot it, especially with that amount of time on the clock.”

What Sanchez and his players didn’t know is that Williams and Mucius had already discussed their options if the original play didn’t go according to script. And Plan B worked like a charm.

“It was amazing,” said Williams, who was coming off a career-high 36-point performance in his previous game against VMI last Tuesday. “My boy was like, ‘If you see me, I’m going to hit it.’ I always got belief in my team. I saw him wide open and you know what he did. He knocked it down.”

As soon as the ball went through the basket, Mucius took off running toward the far end of the court and popped his jersey in front of Charlotte’s band.

It was a special moment for the Deacons’ longest-tenured player, one who has endured his share of disappointments over his three-year career.

“I put in so much work in the gym. Those moments are the moments you work for,” said Mucius, who had 20 points in the victory. “As soon as I hit that shot, I wanted to immediately run to the other side because those fans were tripping the entire game and I wanted to get my groove on.

Alondes Williams winds up for a tomahawk jam during the first half of Wake Forest’s 82-89 win against Charlotte. Williams finished the game with 34 points. (PJ Ward-Brown / North State Journal)

“Those moments are amazing and you want to always have more of those moments, but the work comes first. They don’t just happen.”

As dramatic as Mucius’ final shot was, it never would have been necessary had the Deacons (11-1) been able to maintain the intensity with which they started the game.

With Williams, Mucius and big man Dallas Walton (14 points) fueling a first-half blitz that at times resembled a slam dunk contest, Wake rolled out to 16-4 lead after just five minutes and built what seemed to be an insurmountable 19-point lead at 44-25 just before the halftime break.

But, as Charlotte’s Sanchez noted, the game turned out to be “a tale of two halves.”

The comeback began when 49ers star Jahmir Young began aggressively driving the ball to the basket. As his confidence began to build on the way to a 27-point performance, so did that of his teammates. Trapp, a Clemson transfer, was also instrumental in the rally, with all 17 of his points coming in the final 20 minutes.

Charlotte (5-5) steadily chipped away at the big Wake lead before tying the game on consecutive 3-pointers by Young and Trapp in the final 1:05, the latter coming in transition started by Robert Braswell’s block of a Williams layup.

“We started out and played really well,” Forbes said. “It was kind of a mirror of when we played Oregon State about a month ago.  We played really high-level offense in the first half and just quit defending. Give Charlotte credit. They started driving the ball and they got a little confidence from three. We couldn’t get matched up in transition and that was disappointing. We just made enough plays to win the game.

“I’m proud of my team. We’re 10-1 in nonconference. That’s a pretty big accomplishment from where we came from since I got the job, so I’m very excited about that. We can put it in the bank. It’s over and now we’ve got to play league games.”