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Wake Forest pivots away from defensive frustration, lean on veterans in victory over Syracuse
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Wake Forest pivots away from defensive frustration, lean on veterans in victory over Syracuse

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A week ago, Wake Forest basketball coach Steve Forbes looked at his team, coming off a loss to a hot-shooting Miami, wondering about the type of defense his team could play.

Could the Deacons do better? He thought so, but he needed to see so.

On Saturday, he watched them tested in every way possible against Syracuse. Wake Forest’s ability to come up in the big defensive moments — and lean on the older heads of the team — colored a week that featured a blowout against Florida State and an overtime victory, 77-74, against the Orange.

“I was sitting there thinking to myself, ‘Is this a one-off game? Are we really like this?’ And I didn’t think we were, but we came home defensively and watched a lot of time.

“... We’re going to be able to score baskets. If we can defend at a high level and continue to rebound, we’ve got a great chance.”

The Deacons (13-3, 3-2 ACC) now line up a matchup with Duke on Wednesday, two double-digit win teams in a muddled ACC. And Wake Forest, after back-to-back losses on the road, have notched two straight wins and re-established themselves guarding the ball.

Against Louisville, the Deacons held the Cardinals under 40 percent on their field goals but got caught in foul trouble in a 73-69 defeat. Then the Hurricanes lit them up on a 61-percent clip in a 92-84 loss.

The Florida State game provided a reset. The first media timeout gave Forbes a chance to help the team shake off an early Seminole lead and find their rhythm. The Deacons turned loose balls into fast breaks (while FSU shot 24%) for a 76-54 win and games of at least 20 points, six rebounds and four assists for both Jake LaRavia and Alondes Williams.

“You know how coach is when he calls timeout when things don’t go right — he chews on us to make sure guys pick it up,” Khadim Sy said on Tuesday. “Because he knows we can do it. We’ve done it in many games … he knows we can do it.”

All that funneled into Saturday, a battle that needed overtime against a Syracuse team that never relented. Early in the second half, the Orange held an eight-point lead at its best moment.

That’s where Dallas Walton shined for his paint presence. The graduate transfer from Colorado had four blocks, all either in the second half or overtime. Every one of his actions felt significant in the game’s final 25 minutes.

On the offensive end, Walton provided the score that sent the game to overtime. Alondes Williams passed to Walton on the block, who pivoted and dunked to send Joel Coliseum into hysterics.

“He looked like the Orlando Magic Dwight Howard out there,” Williams said of his teammate. “He was just blocking shot after shot after shot. … it was great.”

Those veteran presences have risen time and time again for Wake Forest. They — from Williams’ ability to score, to Walton’s savvy leadership and play — validate their additions to the roster with every game.

Forbes said the play as of late has paired with those veterans to establish a quiet confidence that doesn’t waiver. He pointed to Isaiah Mucius, who hit four timely 3-pointers but apologized to Forbes after a late turnover.

But he moved away from that moment quickly, Forbes said, much like the team settled back down against on defense after a frustrating performance last week. That resolve will be tested by a No. 2 Duke team next week.

“I thought they had great next-play mentality,” Forbes said. “Like, I’m on them and then they move on to the next play. I think that’s why we were successful.”

WAKE FOREST 77, SYRACUSE 74, OT

FG FT Reb

SYRACUSE Min M-A M-A O-T A PF PTS

J.Boeheim 41 9-17 1-1 3-5 1 2 21

Swider 40 4-10 0-0 3-14 0 4 10

Edwards 20 3-7 0-1 0-5 2 5 6

B.Boeheim 44 5-20 5-5 1-7 6 3 17

Girard 41 3-12 5-5 0-3 7 2 13

B.Williams 24 2-7 0-0 0-2 0 3 4

Anselem 10 0-0 1-2 4-5 0 2 1

Torrence 5 1-2 0-0 1-1 0 0 2

Totals 225 27-75 12-14 12-42 16 21 74

Percentages: FG .360, FT .857.

3-Point Goals: 8-29, .276 (Swider 2-4, J.Boeheim 2-5, B.Boeheim 2-9, Girard 2-9, B.Williams 0-2).

Team Rebounds: 7. Team Turnovers: 1.

Blocked Shots: 1 (Edwards).

Turnovers: 8 (Girard 4, J.Boeheim 3, Torrence).

Steals: 6 (Edwards 2, Anselem, Girard, J.Boeheim, Torrence).

Technical Fouls: None.

FG FT Reb

WAKE Min M-A M-A O-T A PF PTS

Mucius 37 5-15 4-5 1-3 1 0 18

Walton 38 3-5 3-4 1-4 4 2 9

Whitt 25 0-5 0-0 0-4 6 1 0

A.Williams 45 9-15 4-8 3-12 4 1 25

LaRavia 45 3-8 4-6 0-9 4 4 12

Sy 31 5-10 1-2 1-4 0 3 13

Hildreth 4 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0

Totals 225 25-58 16-25 6-36 19 11 77

Percentages: FG .431, FT .640.

3-Point Goals: 11-37, .297 (Mucius 4-14, A.Williams 3-6, LaRavia 2-5, Sy 2-7, Walton 0-1, Whitt 0-4).

Team Rebounds: 6. Team Turnovers: None.

Blocked Shots: 6 (Walton 4, LaRavia, Whitt).

Turnovers: 13 (A.Williams 6, Mucius 3, Sy 2, Hildreth, LaRavia).

Steals: 4 (A.Williams, LaRavia, Mucius, Walton).

Technical Fouls: None.

Syracuse 36 33 5 — 74

Wake Forest 38 31 8 — 77

A: 7,220 (14,665).

336-727-7165

@ByEthanJoyce

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