Wake Forest’s last win was the kind that would have made previous coach Skip Prosser proud. A victory Sunday at North Carolina would go just as far in honoring him as the Demon Deacons try to reach the NCAA tournament.
Coach Dino Gaudio’s squad tries to upset a top 5 team for the second straight game as it plays the No. 3 Tar Heels at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill.
The sport of college basketball was rocked with the death of Prosser, who had an apparent heart attack on July 26. Gaudio - an assistant to Prosser - was promoted, and the young Demon Deacons (16-8, 6-5 Atlantic Coast) have been finding their way while staying competitive in the ACC.
Wake Forest put it all together last Sunday behind freshman Jeff Teague, who scored 26 points in an 86-73 upset of then-No. 2 Duke. Fellow freshman James Johnson added 24 and a season-high 16 rebounds in a charged atmosphere where the Deacons relentlessly attacked the basket in getting the kind of victory that improves their NCAA tournament chances.
“Jeff Teague, who is a really courageous young guy, he got us off to a terrific start. He let us know we can play with these guys,” Gaudio said. “The kids deserve all the credit. I’m proud of them. Hopefully, in March, if there’s a chance we’re there on the bubble, that would be a good win that might get us over the top.”
Johnson and Teague are the top two scorers on the Deacons, averaging 14.8 and 12.8 points, respectively. But the Deacons will need Teague to shake his road woes to have a chance to upset the Tar Heels. The 6-foot-2 guard is averaging just 9.8 points on 35.0 percent shooting, and Wake Forest is only 2-7 away from Joel-Lawrence Coliseum.
This is the second of what could be a make-or-break three-game stretch for the Demon Deacons, who have won three straight, in their bid to be in the field of 65. They complete the stretch Friday at home against Maryland.
“Those two teams are really tough,” said sophomore guard L.D. Williams. “North Carolina is arguably the best team in the country, especially when they have a healthy point guard. We’ve struggled against Maryland the past three games. Those two teams are definitely in the top tier of the ACC.”
While it is uncertain if Ty Lawson will miss his seventh straight game due to a sprained ankle, North Carolina (25-2, 10-2) has a relentless force that attacks the basket of its own in power forward Tyler Hansbrough. The junior has been tearing through opposing defenses the last five games, averaging 29.0 points and 11.8 rebounds.
Hansbrough had 32 points, 12 rebounds and five steals in Wednesday’s 84-70 victory at North Carolina State. Sixteen of those points came in a decisive 11-minute portion of the second half as the Tar Heels avoided a second consecutive defeat at Raleigh.
“Everybody talks about Tyler Hansbrough as a player-of-the-year candidate, and the game like tonight is exactly why,” said Marcus Ginyard, who added 13 points for the Tar Heels. “The guy’s going to battle throughout the whole game. He’s going to get banged up, but he’s still going to finish.”
Wayne Ellington scored 21 points, but Quentin Thomas also played well filling in for the injured Lawson, contributing 10 points and seven assists while committing just two turnovers in 31 minutes. Thomas has averaged 7.4 points and 6.6 assists in five games since coach Roy Williams inserted him into the starting lineup.
The Tar Heels won both games between the teams last season by a combined 65 points, including a 104-67 rout at Chapel Hill that snapped a three-game winning streak there for Wake Forest.