Wake Forest 95, East Carolina 54

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GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP)—Dino Gaudio knows his sixth-ranked Wake Forest team has plenty of talent and athleticism. Now the Demon Deacons are showing him a little more maturity, too.

Freshman Al-Farouq Aminu had 21 points and Wake Forest blew open a close game after halftime to beat East Carolina 95-54 on Monday night, keeping the Demon Deacons unbeaten with a dominating defensive effort against an overmatched but upset-minded instate rival.

Chas McFarland had 14 points for the Demon Deacons (11-0), who are off to their best start since winning the first 11 games of 2003-04. Wake Forest jumped four spots in The Associated Press Top 25 on Monday, earning their highest ranking since 2005 when Chris Paul led the Demon Deacons to No. 1.

“We felt like we earned it, don’t get me wrong, but it’s like we didn’t prove ourselves yet,” said point guard Ishmael Smith, who had 11 points and nine assists. “We didn’t have that big win where you sit back and say, ‘This team is for real.”’

At the least, the Demon Deacons showed they are capable of playing with the defensive urgency and businesslike demeanor that Gaudio wants from a team loaded with talented underclassmen. Leading by four at halftime, Wake Forest came roaring out of the break with a big run that silenced the rowdy home crowd.

It started with a modest 15-3 spurt for a double-digit lead. The Demon Deacons spent the rest of the game steadily increasing the lead while putting on a show of the fullcourt athleticism that has made them among the favorites in the Atlantic Coast Conference. There would be no repeat of the Pirates’ upsets of Dwyane Wade-led Marquette here in 2002 or last year’s win against instate rival North Carolina State for ECU’s first-ever victory against an ACC opponent.

Once Aminu scored on a one-handed scooping layup while drawing the foul in transition, Wake Forest led 79-47 with 8:05 to play and the home fans were heading for the exits. Many of the fans who stayed spent the rest of the game sitting down after being on their feet early on.

At one point, Wake Forest had outscored East Carolina 50-9 before allowing the Pirates (8-3) to finish with 17 second-half points on 4-for-30 shooting (13 percent).

“We were up seven, and I look back up at the clock 4 minutes later and we’re up 20,” said L.D. Williams, who had 12 points. “Then you look back up at the clock 2 minutes later and we’re up 30, and it just really snowballed from there. I have to credit our defense for that. Not taking anything away from ECU, but we really forced them to take tough shots.”

There were no shortage of contributors, from Aminu’s double-double with 12 rebounds to Williams’ lockdown defense on East Carolina sharpshooter Sam Hinnant. In addition, Smith’s big performance off the bench as he plays his way back from preseason foot surgery helped the Demon Deacons—who average 18 turnovers per game—finish with eight, all in the first half. Wake Forest had 28 assists on 37 baskets for the game.

“It was a great half for us and it all started with our defense,” Gaudio said. “We really guarded in the second half. If we want to keep playing well, that’s what we’re going to have to do. … I think our kids now are taking pride in our defense.”

Darrius Morrow had 15 points to lead the Pirates, who lost their first 57 games against ACC opponents before upsetting N.C. State 75-69 here last December. They lost at N.C. State 87-76 on Wednesday night then returned home to face iWake Forest, located almost 200 miles west in Winston-Salem.

The Demon Deacons arrived at Minges Coliseum as the highest-ranked visitor since No. 5 Memphis took a 77-67 Conference USA victory here in January 2006.

“I’m disappointed with the way we competed in the second half,” East Carolina coach Mack McCarthy said. “We played a really good basketball team and they exposed everything. They have a lot of answers and came at us in waves.”

Wake Forest controlled the first half and led by as many as 11 points before the Pirates closed the half with an 8-1 spurt and used a 3-pointer from Hinnant to make it 41-37 at halftime and charge up the home crowd.

But the Demon Deacons started the second half like veterans. Leading 45-40, Aminu found the 7-foot McFarland for an inside basket, then Jeff Teague drained a stepback 3-pointer to push the lead to double figures. Then, after baskets from James Johnson and Teague, Aminu found McFarland again for a score that made it 56-40 with 14:51 left.

Hinnant, who scored 30 points against the Wolfpack last year and 18 in last week’s rematch, had nine points on 2-for-12 shooting, including 1-for-9 from 3-point range.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Wake Forest
Al-Farouq Aminu Al-Farouq Aminu
6-11,  21 Pts
12 Rebs, 5 Assists
 East Carolina
Darrius Morrow Darrius Morrow
4-9,  15 Pts
9 Rebs, 0 Assists

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Monday, Dec 22