Wake loses, waits for NCAA news

Wake Forest guard Parker Friedrichsen, right, restrains head coach Steve Forbes during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Pittsburgh in the quarterfinal round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON–Now the wait begins.

Wake Forest was eliminated from the ACC Tournament with an 81-69 quarterfinal loss to Pittsburgh on Thursday. The Demon Deacons were able to add one win—Wednesday’s victory over Notre Dame—to their resume. Now, they’ll have to bide their time until Sunday, when they see if the NCAA Selection Committee decides that it’s good enough to merit a bid.

In or out?

Coach Steve Forbes, who has had two near misses in his previous two years as Deacs coach, thinks Wake has done enough.

“We have a good team,” he said, “and I firmly believe, and everybody that’s watched us play all year long (agrees). We get in the tournament, we can win. It’s not going to be charity now. Nobody is going to play us if we get in there.”

The coach that sent the Deacs into the waiting room agrees that Wake should get a bid.

“We beat a good basketball team today,” said Pitt’s Jeff Capel, “that I think is an NCAA Tournament team that’s very explosive offensively, unbelievable size and well-coached.”

Comeback not quite enough

Pitt got a 30-point night from Ishmael Leggett and 20 from Blake Hinson. The Panthers took advantage of a 13-2 run midway through the first half to build a double-digit lead.

The lead grew as big as 19 in the second half. Wake refused to go away, however, scoring nine straight points as part of a 16-4 run to cut the Pitt lead to as low as three in the waning minutes. Pitt was able to make late shots and hold off the desperate Deacs, however.

“I’d say it kind of looked like we woke up a little bit,” said Hunter Sallis, who had 15 points, making him Wake’s second-leading scorer for the day, behind Cameron Hildreth’s 23. “We knew that we had to get something going with the time. We were fighting against time at that point. Just players trying to make plays, and I feel like my team did a great job down the stretch, just a couple things here and there at the end of the game that really ended up costing us.”

Bubble life

Now all that’s left for Wake to do is wait, and worry.

“We’re not done,” said Hildreth. “We want to still focus on us as a team and not separating from each other. We’re a great team, a great group of guys. Our chemistry is really good, and I think that’s why we’re able to play the way we do. But I think just over the next few days, rest up and get together and see what happens.”

“We’ve got more to play for,” Forbes said. “It’ll be with an N. It won’t be the CIT or the CBI. I know that, if those even exist anymore. It’ll be the NCAA or the NIT.”

Forbes is trying to remain positive and not obsess over his team’s fate.

“I think there’s another episode of (Apple TV Plus series) Masters of the Air coming out,” Forbes said of his plans for the next three days. “I’ll be watching that. Kind of going from there.”