Wake Forest has stumbled since taking over the No. 1 ranking with the longest undefeated start in team history. The Demon Deacons hope continued success against ranked opponents can help them get back on track.
The seventh-ranked Demon Deacons look to bounce back from their fourth loss in six games and improve to 4-0 against Top 25 teams when they host Toney Douglas and 25th-ranked Florida State in an ACC matchup Saturday.
Wake Forest (18-4, 5-4) set a team record by winning its first 16 games. The last win during that run - a 78-68 road victory over then-No. 10 Clemson on Jan. 17 - propelled the Demon Deacons to their first No. 1 ranking since November 2004.
Since then, however, Wake Forest has dropped four of six, including an 82-76 loss to North Carolina State on Wednesday night. The Demon Deacons shot 50.0 percent but also committed 17 turnovers, gave up 17 offensive rebounds and were outscored 23-9 at the free-throw line.
“We have to realize that everyone is gunning for us,” said Wake’s leading scorer Jeff Teague, who took only three field-goal attempts and finished with 11 points and seven assists. “We came out lackadaisical. We think we’re Wake Forest and everyone is going to lay down for us. When we start realizing that they’re not, we’ll get back to winning.”
Wake Forest has lost four of its last five against unranked teams but hasn’t had any trouble stepping up against stiff competition, going 3-0 against Top 25 teams. In addition to their victory over the Tigers, the Demon Deacons also defeated then-No. 3 North Carolina on Jan. 11 and then-top-ranked Duke on Jan. 28.
They’ll try to add Florida State (19-5, 6-3) to that list, but that could be a challenge if Douglas continues his strong play. The senior guard is the ACC’s leading scorer in conference play with 23.3 points per game. He’s helped the Seminoles crack the Top 25 for the first time since Jan. 19, 1998.
Douglas, the only Florida State player averaging double figures in scoring, knows being ranked brings added pressure both for him and his teammates.
“Now that we’re ranked, a lot of teams are going to be trying to come at us more than they used to,” he said. “We’ve got to stay on point.”
Florida State managed to do so Tuesday night, outscoring Virginia 48-35 in the second half of a 68-57 win. Douglas scored 15 of his 19 points after intermission and added a career high-tying seven assists.
“He’s trying to get as many of his teammates involved and milk the ability that they have,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “He’s playing with that kind of focus.”
Solomon Alabi and Uche Echefu were the two primary beneficiaries of Douglas’ willingness to share the ball. Alabi, a 7-foot-1 freshman center from Nigeria, had 13 points and went 6-for-8 from the field, and Echefu added a season high-tying 17 points and shot 6-for-9.
“We can’t depend on Toney every night,” Echefu said. “We just want to get everybody involved.”
That worked for the Seminoles in these teams’ last meeting in the 2008 ACC tournament. After averaging 17.7 points and shooting 50.0 percent in his first three career games against Wake Forest, Douglas was held to nine points and 2-for-11 shooting in that game. Florida State, though, had three players score in double figures in the 70-60 victory.
Wake Forest won both regular-season meetings with Florida State last season, including a 74-57 home victory Jan. 20.