That loud thud was Wake Forest dropping from the No. 1 ranked spot in the nation.
The Demon Deacons didn't look ready for prime time in a humiliating 91-73 loss at third-ranked Illinois in a game not as close as the score indicates. Coach Skip Prosser and his team will be seeing orange in their nightmares for some time.
After a 5-0 start and their first time reaching No. 1 in the polls, the Deacons simply fell on their face in Champaign. They shot 39.7 percent from the field and were even worse at the other end of the floor, forcing just six turnovers and watching the Illini shoot 56 percent from the field.
The ballyhooed backcourt of Chris Paul and Justin Gray combined to hit just 7-of-27 shots and the inside game wasn't much better, though center Eric Williams had 18 points. Vytas Danelius, ravaged by injuries last year, has again been gimpy in the past few games on bad wheels, but Jamaal Levy remains one of the top defenders in the nation and a steady contributor at both ends.
Even Prosser's deep bench, including guard Taron Downey, couldn't stem the tide, and now Deacon fans have to hope the huge loss wasn't a fatal blow to the team's psyche. Prosser will have to do some of his best work to keep the team on task and ready for conference play.
The Demon Deacon defense was horrid at Illinois, bringing back memories of Wake's uneven effort at that end of the floor last season. The Deacons dropped to the bottom of the ACC in defense this season, allowing 72.2 points per game, hardly the pedigree of a No. 1 ranked team.
Opponents' .423 field goal percentage is also one of the worst marks in the league.
Wake Forest was last in the ACC last year in scoring defense (76.1 ppg) and defensive field goal percentage (.449).
-- Wake has also been surprisingly inefficient at the free throw line. After shooting 71.2 percent last year, the Deacons have slipped to 66.3 shooting this season.
-- The Demon Deacons won the Preseason NIT with a 79-67 win over Providence in the semifinals and a 63-60 victory over 18th-ranked Arizona in the title game. The Deacs are 7-1 all-time in that tournament.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You get a good shot at correcting (weaknesses) when you play good teams, as long as it doesn't destroy your confidence." -- Coach Skip Prosser in an ominous quote before the Illinois game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
UPCOMING GAMES: vs. Richmond, Saturday, Dec. 4.
KEYS: Undersized Richmond was destined to have trouble with the Demon Deacons even before this became a "must win" for Wake after the lackluster showing at Illinois. Wake must regain its swagger quickly. The Deacons can't afford any hangover from the debacle in Champaign. Following Richmond, the Deacons travel to tough Temple and then host Elon before facing powerful Texas at home on Dec. 18.
ROSTER REPORT: Sophomore guard Jeremy Ingram will transfer at the end of the semester and freshman forward Cameron Stanley is likely to redshirt this season, leaving Wake with just 10 scholarship players. Stanley is recovering from a torn ACL suffered last December.
-- Junior center Eric Williams is the only Deac to score in double figures in every game this season. Shooting over 60 percent from the field, the 6-9 Williams has also had five or more rebounds in each contest.
-- Junior guard Justin Gray was named MVP of the NIT, scoring 21 points in each of the two games in New York.