Self-destructive Deacons can’t hold onto lead against Miami

Miami outscored Wake Forest 19-0 on points off turnovers to hand the Deacons a damaging 76-72 loss at Joel Coliseum

Isiaah Mucius shows his frustration by hiding his face in his jersey after Wake Forest's loss to Miami at Joel Coliseum on Saturday. (PJ Ward-Brown / North State Journal)

WINSTON-SALEM — It might sound like hyperbole to say that the Wake Forest basketball team gave away its game against Miami on Saturday.

Then again, as one look at the turnover statistics will also reveal, it’s also at least partially accurate.

The Deacons coughed the ball up 17 times leading to 19 Hurricanes points while going scoreless on the seven turnovers they were able to force. The disparity was a determining factor in a 76-72 loss at Joel Coliseum that put a dent in Wake Forest’s hopes of a top-four finish in the ACC.

 “They outscored us 19-0 on turnovers, and you can’t win that way,” Wake coach Steve Forbes said. “An Achilles’ heel we’ve been talking about for a while now, turnovers, is a problem. And you can’t win big games when you turn the ball over like that, especially when it leads to layups.”

The Deacons (20-6, 10-5) came into the game ranked 13th in the ACC in turnover margin but have shown a knack for overcoming their looseness with the ball by compensating in other areas.

They weren’t able to do it this time, despite shooting 54.9% from the floor.

Miami’s Kameron McGusty protects the ball from Wake Forest’s Khadim Sy after he fell to the floor during Saturday’s game at Joel Coliseum (PJ Ward-Brown/North State Journal)

Forbes blamed Wake’s problems primarily on the physicality of Miami’s defense and his own team’s lack of ball movement to counter it. He also said that the Hurricanes played with a greater sense of urgency, especially in a second half that saw them outscore the Deacons 43-32.

“We weren’t very strong with the ball, and that’s disappointing,” Forbes said.

That was especially the case coming out of halftime.

After Wake extended its seven-point lead at the break to 43-33 on a 3-pointer by Alondes Williams, it scored only two more points over the next eight possessions to let Miami (18-7, 10-4 ACC) back in the game.

Four of those empty possessions came on turnovers, leading to a pair of fast break baskets.

The Hurricanes eventually took the lead with a 10-0 run midway through the half. But while the Deacons managed to battle back, getting back even as late as the 3:01 mark, they faltered down the stretch for one of the few times this season.

Miami scored on nine of its final 11 possessions, with the star backcourt duo of Kameron McGusty and Isaiah Wong combining for 13 points in that stretch. McGusty finished with 22 points while Wong had 20, the two most important coming on a tough fall-away dagger from the right baseline with 11.4 seconds left.

The Hurricanes shot 51.7% for the game. It was only the fifth time in 25 games that the Deacons have allowed an opponent to make at least half its shots. They are 1-4 in those games.

“The most frustrating part is that the things that cost us the game are things we can control,” Wake forward Isaiah Mucius said afterward. 

“The first half we had the lead, we had control of the game and I think we got too comfortable. There have been a couple of games when we’ve done that and we’d end up winning the game because we’d go on a 16-0 run, a 9-0 run, we’d get some stops and we stopped playing around. But tonight they took advantage of us getting comfortable. That’s something we have to work on as a team.”

Dallas Walton attempts a dunk during the first half of Wake Forest’s game against Miami on Saturday. He missed the shot (PJ Ward-Brown/North State Journal)

Wake led by as many as 13 points in the first half and held a 40-33 advantage after 20 minutes. But even then, Forbes said his team “left a lot of points on the table.”

Williams had another big game for the Deacons with 25 points, but other than point guard Daivien Williamson, who added 12, he didn’t get much consistent offensive help. Part of that can be attributed to the foul trouble that limited forward Jake LaRavia to 22 minutes and seven points.

Although the result, as Mucius said, “wasn’t the end of the world,” it was a damaging one in that it dropped Wake into fifth place in the ACC and out of a position to earn a double-bye in the upcoming conference tournament.

With games this week against Duke and Notre Dame — two of the teams ahead of them in the standings — this is a key stretch for the Deacons.

“We haven’t accomplished anything,” Forbes said. “There’s a lot of season left and we’re not in the NCAA Tournament yet. We haven’t got a seed in the ACC Tournament. Those all have to be earned and you can’t lose at home.

“That’s no disrespect to Miami. They came in here and played hard, like I knew they would. They came in here and beat us.”