The second game of Wake Forest’s basketball season has already brought the team to a crossroads.
Beyond a 79-66 loss to visiting Liberty on Tuesday night at Joel Coliseum, beyond the Deacons’ first 0-2 start to a season since 1979 and beyond the Flames shooting nearly 50 percent, this is a Wake Forest team that junior guard Bryant Crawford suggested is “afraid of success.”
“We started going away from what was working and then we regrouped at halftime, came out strong, cut the lead, had some success on the defensive end and we just shied away and let them get comfortable again,” Crawford said.
The question from there becomes: Is that troubling to say two games into a season?
“Definitely, because when I first got here and when (Keyshawn Woods) first got here, we witnessed the same thing, losing,” Crawford said. “And we made steps for it last season and it feels like we’re headed back downhill right now. We have to regroup and let this weekend be a turning point for us.”
Crawford is referring to an 11-20 mark for the 2015-16 season, his freshman year and the season that Woods sat out after transferring from Charlotte. Even that season, the Deacons beat UMBC and Bucknell to start the year.
Coach Danny Manning said “we’re not a good team right now,” and then explained what it’ll take for things to get turned around in a figurative sense before the Deacons head to Lynchburg, Va., for the Paradise Jam this weekend.
“We’ve got to get better, we’ve got to come into practice every day with our hardhat on and our lunch pale, quit feeling sorry for ourselves and get better,” Manning said. “That’s just, that’s the only way that you can get out of the situation that we’re in now.”
Crawford, who led the Deacons with 21 points, and Woods took a more direct approach.
“They made more effort plays, they wanted it more than we did, from the beginning of the game to the end of the game,” said Woods, who had 14 points. “Right now everybody on our team, we all, collectively, do not have a want to rebound. We don’t have a want to play defense, and that’s our issue. We have to fix it.”
Wake Forest never led in the second half. The closest it came was three points, twice in the first seven minutes. But for the final 12 minutes, the closest Wake Forest came was a 59-53 deficit with 4:35 left.
The final seconds ticked off the clock and included a technical foul against Woods, Liberty reserves taunting Wake Forest fans about missing out on free Chick-fil-A and a Wake Forest student making “you must love Jesus” jokes at the Christian-based university.
“I feel like us as a team, we’ve got to understand that shots are not always going to fall and if shots aren’t falling we’ve got to find other ways to gut out a victory,” Crawford said. “I feel like our defense was our offense tonight, but at spurts we chose to play defense hard and at spurts we chose to let them get comfortable, which allowed them to get some easy, open 3s.”
Liberty shot 9-for-21 on 3-pointers, while Wake Forest was 2-for-17. Liberty (2-0) outrebounded Wake Forest 39-28.
Wake Forest’s defense was actually better early in this game, creating nine turnovers in each half. Active hands forcing deflections was a key Manning said he wanted to improve, and that certainly was the case.
The problem was that the Deacons had one field goal in the last six minutes of the first half, allowing a 10-0 Liberty run that sent the Flames into halftime leading 34-25. And in the second half, the Deacons never mounted a substantial run in the last 10 minutes.