Feb. 14, 2009
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) -Wake Forest again looked like the deep and athletic team capable of making a deep run in March. The Demon Deacons apparently just needed a ranked opponent to bring it back out of them.
Al-Farouq Aminu scored 17 points to help the seventh-ranked Demon Deacons beat No. 25 Florida State 86-63 on Saturday, extending their unbeaten run against ranked teams while bouncing back from a frustrating stretch that followed their appearance at No. 1.
Jeff Teague added 15 points for the Demon Deacons (19-4, 6-4 Atlantic Coast Conference), who led the entire way and spent much of the game shooting better than 50 percent. Wake Forest used a 13-0 run in the second half to take control, turning a 12-point halftime lead into a 30-point margin late in the game to end the Seminoles’ three-game winning streak.
Wake Forest also hit 32 of 38 free throws, far better than its 70 percent average.
The performance fit perfectly into the way the Demon Deacons have been playing for the past month. They had lost four of six since reaching No. 1, including Wednesday’s loss at unranked North Carolina State in which it trailed by 20 points in the second half. Along the way, there was a loss at Georgia Tech for the Yellow Jackets’ lone league win, a 27-point loss at Miami last week and the home loss to Virginia Tech when the Demon Deacons were 16-0 and ranked first.
But this is also the same team that beat North Carolina, Duke and Clemson – all currently ranked 12th or higher – in a span of five games.
It’s left coach Dino Gaudio to surmise that his team has occasional bouts with overconfidence, particularly when the facing a team from the bottom half of the league.
“They’re learning you’ve got to play everybody,” he said. “But when you put a challenge in front of them, they meet it.”
In that sense, Florida State (19-6, 6-4) was the perfect opponent to get Wake Forest moving again. The Seminoles were celebrating their first appearance in the national rankings in 11 years and entered the day tied for third in the ACC with Clemson. Their only loss in the past five games had come against the Tar Heels on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
But the Demon Deacons controlled this one from the start, scoring the first six points and taking a 42-30 lead at the break before turning the game into a rout.
“We seem to play to our potential when we play tougher competition,” said Chas McFarland, who had seven points during the decisive 13-0 run. “Not to degrade anybody else, but when we play somebody at the bottom of the ACC, we tend to kind of slack off and play lackadaisical. We just came out ready to play because we knew if we didn’t play, then they were going to beat us. We need to take that mentality game in and game out.”
The Wake Forest coaches did their best to instill that attitude with some tough practices in the days that followed the N.C. State loss. The work included drills on defense and fundamentals, the kind of work that Gaudio said was more befitting the preseason than the final weeks of the regular season.
“This group has terrific character,” he said. “They’re hard-nosed guys. We went hard on Thursday. They went hard yesterday. It’s just that they’re learning. They’re growing. We all want them to be 16-0, No. 1 in the country and perfect, but that’s not reality.”
Wake Forest played tough defense, holding the Seminoles scoreless for the opening 5 minutes of the game. Florida State shot just 38 percent, including 4-for-22 from 3-point range, and committed 18 turnovers.
Toney Douglas led FSU with 22 points, but he got little help from his teammates when the game was within reach late in the first half.
“I guess we kind of ran into a buzzsaw,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “They were extremely ready to play. I thought they were much more aggressive than we were. For whatever reason, we were somewhat tentative on the offensive end. We were somehow reluctant to attack and they took advantage of our tentativeness. … This wasn’t one of our better games.”
In fact, it seemed Wake Forest was keeping Florida State in the game by constantly fouling. The Demon Deacons committed 24 personal fouls, including 14 in the first half that helped the Seminoles get to the foul line and bolster their struggling offense. Florida State hit 11 of 15 foul shots in the first half, but got to the line just six times after halftime.
The game also got chippy when Solomon Alabi was ejected for elbowing McFarland in the face when the two got tangled while running up the court with 14:07 to play.