GREENSBORO -- Much like in its disturbing 83-62 ACC tournament loss to Miami Thursday afternoon, Wake Forest had no answers after the game either.
Having just lost to the ACC’s last-place team in a flameout performance that was absent emotion and energy, the Deacons could hardly look forward to their seemingly shaky NCAA tournament chances without looking back at their third straight one-and-out in the ACC tournament.
Any thought that a Sunday night win over Clemson had washed away the residue of a four-game losing streak was buried beneath the Deacons’ (19-10) lost in space feeling.
“Words can’t explain it,” said center Chas McFarland, who played just one second-half minute as coach Dino Gaudio desperately searched for some kind of spark he never found.
When Gaudio, who has not won an ACC tournament game in his three years as the Deacons’ head coach, tried to explain it, he hit on several factors: toothless defense, a lack of energy and a dearth of emotion.
It all spun back to the same thing – the team that was good enough to beat Gonzaga, Xavier and Maryland, among others, earlier this season – was nowhere to be seen against the more aggressive Hurricanes.
In the Deacons’ post-game locker room, senior L.D. Williams referenced the words of teammate Ty Walker earlier.
“(He) said at the beginning of the year we were so focused and determined to win,” said Williams, who missed all five shots he took. “We’ve gotten away from that the last two or three weeks.
“We’ve got to find something and do whatever we can to get back to where we were at the beginning. If we’ve got to start over from scratch, we’ve got to do it.”
It was apparent quickly that Wake Forest wasn’t ready for the Hurricanes, who sagged into the tournament having lost seven of their last nine games. Miami jumped to an 8-2 lead and kept attacking.
Not blessed with an abundance of offensive weapons, the Deacons’ success has been built primarily on tough defense and aggressive rebounding, two elements directly tied to effort.
Gaudio watched as his team time after time allowed Miami’s guards to beat defenders into the lane. When the Deacons’ big men would rotate over to play help defense, they allowed the Hurricanes’ to hurt them on the boards.
On the perimeter, Miami made eight of 17 3-pointers against a defense that was holding opponents to 28 percent shooting beyond the arc. Forward Reggie Johnson had 22 points (nine above his previous career high) and James Dews had 15 points for the Hurricanes.
“This team has to realize that for us to have a modicum of success, it happens on the defensive end,” Gaudio said.
Down 41-27 at halftime, any thought the Deacons might be better after the break evaporated when Miami scored the first six points of the second half.
“You have to set the tone. That’s what Miami did,” said guard Ish Smith, a lone Wake Forest bright spot with 14 points, five assists and four rebounds.
Al-Farouq Aminu, who averages a double-double, finished with 11 points and seven rebounds but his four turnovers led Gaudio to play him only seven minutes after halftime.
Aminu tweaked his right wrist in the first half, causing him to shoot an air ball on a free throw. His body language near the end illustrated his – and perhaps the Deacons’ – frustration.
“Our team should be better than that but I guess we’re not,”Aminu said. “We were kinda flat out there. They made a couple of (early) shots and our energy level went down.”