WINSTON-SALEM, NC—Pundits wondered aloud during the long offseason about Danny Manning’s attempts to bolster his team’s outside shooting ability. If Sunday’s 94-74 win over Bucknell is any indication the Demon Deacons have firepower aplenty, which should keep them not only competitive but dangerous in Atlantic Coast Conference play. Keyshawn Woods came off the bench firing in the first half, going 3-4 from behind the arc in the half en route to a game-high 22 points.
“He was outstanding tonight,” Manning said of Woods. ”He’s embraced his role as the sixth man. I view him as our sixth starter, to be honest with you, because he’s going to play starter’s minutes.”
The Deacons (2-0) led by 16 with 11:40 left in the first half, but the Bison (1-1) tightened the defense and closed the gap to 29-22 with 8:09 to play. Wake Forest started hot from the three-point line, at one point hovering around the 65% mark, but the field goal percentage started to fall as Bucknell started getting to loose balls first and grabbing offensive rebounds. The heady defense led to much better offense from the Bison, who closed the gap to 36-30 with 4:36 left to play.
Wake Forest, needing an answer to reclaim momentum before halftime, got it in the form of defense. After Dinos Mitoglou hit two free throws out of the final media timeout to stretch the lead to 8, the Deacs created two turnovers and crashed the boards with impunity, sparking an 11-3 Wake Forest run.
“Our message is always that we don’t want to trade buckets with teams,” Manning said. “We want to get stops- score and get stops. We had a good stretch right there. Whenever you get up on teams in college basketball- regardless of how many points you get up – they are going to make a run at some point. You’ve got to be able to withstand that run and go on one of your own.”
Wake Forest shot 50% for the game (13-26 from the three-point line) and, perhaps most important, turned the ball over 9 times- none from point guards Bryant Crawford or Brandon Childress. That kind of efficiency at the guard position, combined with extra available shooters, should serve the Deacons well once they begin conference play. While pleasing to Manning, there is still a lot of work to be done- especially on the defensive side.
John Collins had the biggest presence of the Deacon bigs, finishing with 19 points as Wake Forest worked to exploit the size mismatch in the interior. With Dinos Mitoglou saddled with foul trouble for most of the second half, Collins shouldered most of the workload- falling 1 rebound short of a double-double.
“I thought we came out and did some really good things, offensively,” Manning said. “We made some shots early, which opened some things up for us. We did a good job of throwing the ball inside and having a presence with our big guys.”
Bucknell was paced by Zach Thomas’ 16 points, followed by 15 points from Kimbal Mackenzie. Bucknell opened in a man-to-man defense but switched to a zone to try and mitigate the damage done by the Deacons’ three-point prowess. By the time that happened, however, two Bison were burdened with 3 fouls, forcing coach Nathan Davis to get creative with substitutions.
Next up for Wake Forest is a trip to Charleston for the Gildan Charleston Classic. If the Deacons continue their long-range prowess and continue to be efficient from the guard position, they will be in good shape heading into December.
“We feel good about getting a win against (Bucknell)," Manning said. "We have a day off tomorrow so our guys can recover and then prepare for a tough UTEP team.”