The last time Wake Forest was at home, they exited Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum with a bad taste in their mouth after Luke Kennard carried the Duke Blue Devils all the way back for an improbable come-from-behind victory.
Saturday, the Demon Deacons enjoyed a victory on the same floor and left the court with a 180 degree turn in emotions. They once again had the look of confidence after defeating the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 81-69.
Georgia Tech is a surprising success story in the ACC after wins over North Carolina, Florida State and Notre Dame. They and Wake Forest both found themselves as bubble teams going into Saturday, making this win even more critical for the Demon Deacons, who need to keep adding quality victories to their tournament resume.
After the first half, it looked like two evenly matched ACC teams were exchanging blows. Georgia Tech was shooting very poorly at 29.6 percent, but still found themselves down just six. However, the Yellow Jackets were in foul trouble with Ben Lammers, Corey Heyward and Sylvester Ogbonda all saddled with three personal fouls.
Wake Forest opened up the second half with hot shooting from beyond the arc and opened the game up. Two straight threes from Dinos Mitoglou and Keyshawn Woods pushed the lead to double digits. Wake Forest has been a confident team offensively all season.
“We’re going to shoot it if we’re open,” Wake Forest coach Danny Manning said with a laugh. “ We aren’t a bashful group. We got guys that are capable of making shots.”
One guy that stepped up for Wake was Mitchell Wilbekin, who was tremendous off the bench with 16 points, five assists, and five rebounds. Although he didn’t start the game, Wilbekin led the Deacons with 32 minutes played and made them all count.
“I just want to stay confident. My teammates believe in me,” Wilbekin said after the game.
Wake faced a similar pressure moment, when their 16-point second-half lead was diminished to seven with just 5:48 left in the game. However, the result was finally different for the Demon Deacons. In the next three minutes, Wake Forest stretched the lead back to 14 with a 9-2 run that culminated with a Mitchell Wilbekin three that put the game out of reach for the Yellow Jackets.
“Earlier in the season we may have folded or may have freaked out a little bit, but we’ve been there before,” Wilbekin said.
This game will be critical when resumes are debated in March and Wake Forest should look to use this as a springboard before their Tuesday night contest at Notre Dame. The Irish play North Carolina today in an attempt to stay ranked.