Feb. 19, 2009

By Anthony Oliva III

Perhaps no team in the nation has more quality wins than Wake Forest this season. At the same time, perhaps no team has more perplexing losses than the Demon Deacons.

No. 8 Wake Forest already has wins against then-No. 1 Duke, then-No. 3 North Carolina and then-No. 9 Clemson, the latter jettisoning the Tigers from the undefeated ranks. The Demon Deacons also ended BYU’s 53-game home court winning streak - the nation’s longest at the time - and recently trounced a surging Florida State team that found itself ranked for the first time in the season.

However, with a resume like that, Wake Forest (20-4, 7-4 ACC) is still sitting two and a half games behind UNC in the ACC because the Deacons have lost to the likes of Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Miami and NC State. Of those teams, only one currently has a winning record in the ACC and the loss against Georgia Tech serves as the Yellow Jackets’ only win in ACC play.

“When we play against the teams that people think we’re supposed to beat we get undisciplined,” senior guard Harvey Hale said. “We gamble, we don’t box out, and it’s things like that and then people start hitting threes on us and the momentum just changes.”

Overall, Wake Forest is 4-0 against ranked teams in the ACC – a record the Deacons will look to improve upon when they visit No. 9 Duke on Sunday. On the flip side, the Demon Deacons are 3-4 versus unranked ACC opponents.

“For us to be able to beat the Dukes, the North Carolinas, the Clemsons, the Florida States all in one year means a lot to us, but obviously we need to find a way to play like that against the NC States, the Georgia Techs and the Miamis of the league as well,” junior guard L.D. Williams said.

One point of interest is Wake’s defense in its losses. In its 20 wins this season, the Demon Deacons are letting up only 66.5 points per game. In their losses, they are surrendering over 12 points more, or 78.8 points a night.

Inexperience could be a factor. Wake Forest’s three leading scorers consist of freshman Al-Farouq Aminu and sophomores Jeff Teague and James Johnson. Hale is the only senior on the roster playing significant minutes.

“We’re still a little bit young and maybe the young guys don’t understand the intensity they have to bring every night, but I think they’re learning that now,” Hale said. “That’s why we practice so hard and now we’re starting to learn that because we’ve had those stumbles. They know the games we should have had and we’ve lived and learned, so hopefully it will be a good thing in the long run.”

Teague is the team’s go-to guy. As one of the most explosive players in the ACC, the 6-foot-2 guard is averaging 20.0 points per game and is third in the ACC in scoring.

Johnson and Aminu are the headliners of a very strong front court. The 6-foot-9 Johnson is second on the team with 13.8 points and 7.9 rebounds. Aminu adds 13.2 points and 8.2 rebounds a night.

Lack of experience has become such a concern in the Wake Forest locker room that Williams says that coach Dino Gaudio is starting to refer to the word maturity and “the big M word.”

Maturity might also play a factor on the road where the Demon Deacons have lost 17 of their last 21 games in ACC play, including a 2-3 record this year.

As far as road games go, there may be no bigger or tougher assignment than to win at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium – but that’s exactly what the Demon Deacons will attempt to do Sunday night.
“Winning in Cameron has always been a big thing. If you can win in Cameron you can get a win pretty much anywhere,” Williams said. “Going into an atmosphere like that is unbelievable and to come out with win - not many teams can say they did that.”

No. 9 Duke (20-5, 7-4), which has lost two straight, will try to avenge a 70-68 loss to the Demon Deacons on Jan. 28. In that game, Duke came storming back from a big deficit, but Wake utilized an inbound play to perfection and a poised Johnson was able to break free for a game-winning lay up with .8 seconds left.

Wake is coming into the highly anticipated game with the Blue Devils on a high note. Saturday was the 23-point win over then-No. 25 Florida State (20-6, 7-4). Then, on Wednesday, the Demon Deacons turned the tables on Georgia Tech and beat the Yellow Jackets by 18.

In both of these games the Demon Deacons displayed the hallmarks of this team that once had them ranked as the No. 1 team in the nation.

“When we’re disciplined on the defensive end and we play unselfishly we can beat any team in the country,” Hale said.