Historic comeback leads Wake Forest to ACC quarterfinals

The Demon Deacons secured a better than .500 record and eligibility for the WNIT

Wake Forest's players hurl the ball skyward as they celebrate as time expired in their historic ACC Tournament comeback win over Florida State on Thursday in Greensboro. (Shawn Krest / North State Journal)

GREENSBORO — As Wake Forest left the court at halftime of Thursday’s ACC Tournament second-round game against Florida State, the Demon Deacons were looking at the end of their season.

A loss would drop the Deacs to .500 on the year, making them ineligible for a Women’s NIT bid, and a loss seemed all but assured. Florida State had been dominant in the first half, building a 34-16 halftime lead as Wake scored just two points in the second quarter. Wake was without guard Kaia Harrison, who had injured her ankle the day before and wasn’t available for the game. The Deacs struggled without their floor leader, suffering miscommunications on both ends of the floor.

No one was more frustrated than Jewel Spear. The leading scorer for Wake this season, Spear had suffered through a nightmare first half, missing all eight of her shots and committing two turnovers in a scoreless opening 20 minutes.

Wake video coordinator Joey White met Spear as she headed off the court. He put two fingers under his chin and lifted it, until he was looking up at the rafters.

“Chin up,” he told Spear. “Keep your head up.”

“Yeah, I was a little discouraged,” Spear admitted. “I’m not gonna say I wasn’t.”

“With a player like Jewel, she’s so good. She’s so talented. And we know in a lot of ways, we go as she goes,” said White. “She’s our leader. And you know, a kid like that, you always want her to have confidence because you know at any point she can just get hot and put you back in the game.

“And that’s exactly what she did.”

Spear banked in her first shot of the second half, a 3-pointer, giving Wake more points in the first minute than the Deacs had in the entire second quarter.

She, and the rest of the Demon Deacons, didn’t look back, putting up 29 points in the third quarter and tearing off a 26-0 run to take the lead heading into the fourth. Wake wound up posting the second-largest comeback win in ACC Women’s Tourney history — Duke wiped out a 20-point halftime deficit against Virginia in 1995 — and winning 65-54.

The win makes Wake eligible for the Women’s NIT and allows the Deacs to advance to face Louisville in the ACC quarterfinals on Friday.

Spear went on to hit 6-of-11 second-half shots, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range, putting up a team-high 19 points to lead the charge. She also made sure to let her teammates know that they were still in the game.

“When you have teammates and coaches telling you, ‘Hey, you got this. Have confidence. Believe in yourself,’ those are just words that help you kind of lift yourself up,” Spear said. “ And as a leader, you have to do that for your team. And I think I regrouped at halftime, told my teammates we can make this happen.”

All it took was a simple gesture from the video guy.

“My job on the support staff is not to do X’s and O’s and all the stuff that’s that comes in game preparation and things like that,” White said. “My job is to make sure that the girls are ready with a positive mindset to go out there and play. I mean, we have a lot to play for. We had a lot to play for in that game, and I’m just there for them. I’m really just there for them.”