As abruptly as Wake Forest moved into the Top 25, it could be headed right back out.
After falling in their first game this week, the 23rd-ranked Demon Deacons will likely need a victory over lowly North Carolina State on Saturday to have any chance of remaining in the Top 25.
Wake Forest (18-6, 8-4 ACC) made its season debut as a ranked team Tuesday, only to lose 87-83 at Virginia Tech. The Demon Deacons led most of the game until a late 15-4 run by the Hokies tied it up.
Even if Wake Forest beats last-place N.C. State (14-13, 2-10), it may have a tough time holding on to its spot in the rankings. Virginia Tech has won five straight and is on the fringe of the Top 25 in this week’s poll, trailing the Demon Deacons by 227 votes.
“We have to be a tough-minded group,” Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio said. “We have to come back to practice … and correct some of our deficiencies before playing another tough ACC road game.”
Road games have been the Demon Deacons’ biggest problem. They’re 5-5 on the road, 2-4 in conference play, and have lost four straight at N.C. State.
Against the Hokies, Chas McFarland - one of Wake Forest’s top big men - was hampered by foul problems. The 7-footer finished with eight points and five rebounds in 15 minutes.
The Demon Deacons ended up getting outrebounded 47-38. They had a 48-40 edge in that category in a 67-59 win over the Wolfpack on Dec. 20, both teams’ conference opener.
Al-Farouq Aminu led Wake Forest with 18 points and 13 rebounds in that contest, though he did commit a career-high seven turnovers. The sophomore forward is averaging 22.0 points, 2.3 blocks and 2.0 steals in his last three games.
Tracy Smith, who leads N.C. State with 17.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per contest, was held to 10 points and 3-of-8 shooting in a 67-58 loss to Maryland on Wednesday night. He was limited to 11 points on 5-of-12 shooting in this season’s first matchup with the Demon Deacons.
Smith has been one of the few bright spots on a Wolfpack team that has lost seven straight conference games since upsetting then-No. 7 Duke 88-74 on Jan. 20. N.C. State has lost five straight overall and is 6-11 since losing to Wake Forest.
“I’m not sure where their pulse is,” coach Sidney Lowe said after facing the Terrapins. “I know they were definitely disappointed in there. One guy looked like he was going to cry and a couple of guys had their heads down. I expect that. But the question is what are you going to do about it?”
Smith’s play aside, the Wolfpack aren’t getting much production offensively. They’re averaging 59.4 points and shooting 35.8 percent during their skid in ACC play.
N.C. State shot 33.9 percent (21 for 62) from the field and 57.9 percent (11 for 18) from the free-throw line in its last game versus Wake Forest. Still, the Wolfpack lead the series 131-99.