WINSTON SALEM — The basketball teams from Wake Forest and North Carolina were like two ships passing in the night when they met at Joel Coliseum on Saturday.
One is picking up steam in the direction of the postseason. The other is rapidly taking on water.
The surprising Deacons continued their resurgence by getting 19-plus points from three players while adding to the woes of the suddenly reeling Tar Heels with a convincing, court-storming 98-76 victory.
Jake LaRavia posted a 31-point, 10-rebound double-double while Alondes Williams added 23 points and Davien Williamson 19 to lead Wake to its fifth win in its last six games and hand UNC its second straight lopsided loss of 20 points or more.
“That was a good signature win for us in the league,” said Wake coach Steve Forbes, whose team improved to 16-4 (6-3 ACC). “I was real proud of my team, the way we played for 40 minutes.”
The Deacons were the better team from start to finish, shooting 54% from the floor overall and going 10 of 26 from 3-point range.
Although the Tar Heels (12-6, 4-3) dominated the glass, winning the rebounding battle by a 50-30 margin while scoring 29 points off 23 offensive rebounds, they struggled in every other aspect of their offense.
Other than those second chance points, they were only able to muster five more in the paint, a lack of production that was compounded by a 6-of-28 effort from beyond the 3-point arc.
And while UNC only turned the ball over 11 times, Wake turned them into 21 points while outsourcing the Tar Heels 30-2 on fast break points on the way to posting their highest scoring total against their in-state rival since a 119-114 triple overtime win in 2004.
“When we don’t shoot the ball well from the outside, Armando (Bacot) doesn’t have a dominant game inside and we’re not light’s out defensively,” UNC coach Hubert Davis said, referring to his star big man who was held to 12 points of 4-of-12 shooting, “then it’s going to be hard for us against really good teams.”
And the Deacons are rapidly becoming one of the better teams in the ACC, a fact Davis noted in no uncertain terms.
“Wake Forest, their three guys, their best players were better than us,” he said. “LaRavia, Williamson and Williams. I don’t know how else to say it, but the gap in terms of talent of those three versus anybody on our team was huge.”
That’s saying something, considering that all three of the Deacons stars are transfers that weren’t top recruits.
But you would never have known it the way they took turns dominating a UNC team stocked with four McDonald’s All-Americans.
LaRavia got the momentum, starting the game in what Forbes likes to call “attack” mode by scoring 11 of Wake’s first 18 points on the way to setting a new career high and fouling out UNC’s most effective player, Brady Manek.
“The coaches have been telling me to be a lot more aggressive,” said LaRavia, who went 9 of 13 from the floor and 12 of 15 from the line. “I consider myself a very unselfish player. They’re just telling me to be more aggressive, still playing the way I play. They’re not changing that, but just playing more aggressive and getting to the free throw line after scoring.”
LaRavia’s assertiveness proved to be contagious.
Once he got the ball rolling, Williamson — celebrating his 22nd birthday — picked up on it by sparking an 18-5 run late in the half that gave the Deacons their first double-digit lead. Williams then took his turn carrying the scoring load during a 6½-minute stretch in which the teams traded baskets to start the second half.
But as good as the Deacons’ big three were while combining for 73 points, 19 rebounds, eight assists, four steals and four blocked shots, they weren’t the only ones doing the damage.
Wake also got a major contribution from newcomer Damari Monsanto, playing his first home game since recovering from an Achilles tear last summer. Nine of his 13 points came on three consecutive 3-pointers that broke the game open midway through the second half.
Although 7-foot-1 freshman Matthew Marsh’s stat line wasn’t nearly as impressive, it was equally as important. Playing in only his sixth game this season, the native of England stepped in after big men Dallas Walton and Khadim Sy both got into early trouble and played seven solid minutes of defense on Bacot while scoring two points and pulling down three rebounds.
“I thought we got a lot off our bench tonight,” Forbes said. “Damari Monsanto went on a 9-0 there by himself, and I thought Matthew Marsh really helped us in the first half when we had some foul trouble by playing tremendous defense and rebounding the ball.”
While everything was clicking for a Deacons team trending in the right direction, the Tar Heels are suddenly searching for answers with not much time to find them before playing again on Monday against Virginia Tech.
They struggled offensively, shooting just 33% from the floor, a percentage that would have been significantly worse had it not been for Manek (22 points) and RJ Davis (18 points) combining to go 14 of 29.
Defensively, UNC has given up at least 85 points in each of its past two games, including Tuesday’s 85-57 blowout at Miami. Of greater concern is the fact the Hurricanes and Deacons averaged scoring 25 points apiece off Tar Heels turnovers.
According to point guard Caleb Love, though, UNC’s biggest problem isn’t something that can be found on a stat sheet.
“We can’t play hero ball and try to do it one on five,” he said. “The teams that beat us hit us in the mouth early and we’ve got to play catch-up. It’s a lot of things we have to handle internally. We’ve just got to figure this out.”