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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

Playing with fire finally burns Miami in a shocking loss at lowly Wake Forest

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Codi Miller-McIntyre celebrates with Wake Forest fans after beating Miami (USA Today Sports Images)

Miami had won every ACC game it played, risen into the top five in the polls and exceeded expectations by such a wide margin that its coach was the favorite to win national coach of the year.

Wake Forest had dropped eight of its last 10 games, suffered a myriad of bad losses and played poorly enough for a third straight season that its coach has a YouTube video set to pop music calling for his firing.

Yes, everything about Saturday's matchup in Winston Salem screamed mismatch – and it was one. It just wasn't in favor of the Hurricanes.

Behind five first-half 3-pointers from guard C.J. Harris and sound defense from the rest of the team, Wake Forest opened a 19-point lead late in the first half. Miami rallied to cut the deficit to five behind the heroics of its backcourt, but the Demon Deacons clamped down on defense and pulled away again en route to a shocking 80-65 victory.

In retrospect, there were some warning signs from Miami that a bad loss might be on the horizon.

The Hurricanes barely eked out a 54-50 home win Tuesday night against Virginia thanks largely to a defensive breakdown by the Cavs in the final minute. The previous game from Miami was a 45-43 road win at Clemson that the Hurricanes only won because of a blown charging call and a botched layup on the Tigers' final two possessions.

Strong defense helped make up for erratic offense during stretches of both of those wins, but Miami didn't play with the effort necessary on Saturday to consistently get the stops they needed.

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Devin Thomas (USA Today Sports Images)

Harris scored 23 points and fellow guard Codi Miller-McIntyre had 15 as Wake Forest shot 54.2 percent from the field as a team. The quicker, more agile Demon Deacons forwards pulled Miami's big men away from the basket and got them in foul trouble, contributing to 31 free throws attempted by Wake Forest.

Shane Larkin and Durand Scott spearheaded an 18-4 Miami push over the end of the first half and the beginning of the second to trim a 42-23 lead to five points, but the Hurricanes could get no closer.

Miami's defense broke down and its offense got panicky, leading to too many rushed shots and 1-on-3 fast break attempts. Rion Brown shot 1 of 10 from the field and Reggie Johnson and a foul-plagued Julian Gamble failed to exploit their size advantage in the paint.

As Wake Forest fans flooded the floor following easily the most impressive win of Bzdelik's tenure, the question Demon Deacons fans had to be wondering was if this victory increases the chances the embattled coach gets a fourth season in Winston Salem. It certainly seems like a possibility, especially with an athletic director looking for reasons to justify making the unpopular choice to hire him in the first place three years ago.

Ron Wellman fired previous coach Dino Gaudio after two straight NCAA Tournament bids and gave Bzdelik the task of cleaning house and rebuilding the character of the program. The downside to that process was Bzdelik's embarrassing first two years on the job, the first a 24-loss debacle in which the Demon Deacons went 1-15 in the ACC and the second an 18-loss season that was only marginally better.

Wake Forest (12-14, 5-9) still isn't an league title threat or even a middle-of-the-pack ACC team this year, but the Demon Deacons have made progress this year, especially on their home floor the past few weeks.

They've beaten NC State, Virginia and Florida State at home. They nearly toppled Duke. And now they've done something no other ACC team can claim, handing Miami its first league loss of the season.

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