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ACC Basketball: North Carolina 88, Wake Forest 60

By Nick Bowton

Salisbury Post

WINSTON-SALEM — Wake Forest had just accomplished the ultimate defensive feat — forcing a shot-clock violation. The Demon Deacons’ fans roared louder than they had all night, and Wake trailed fourth-ranked North Carolina by seven points with the ball and 13:15 remaining.

That’s about as good as it got.

Wake turned the ball over on the ensuing possession, turned it over again on its next one, shot an airball after that and saw a close game turn into an 88-60 loss Wednesday night.

“Turnovers. Missed shots. Missed free throws. And now you’re back in damage control,” Wake coach Skip Prosser said. “They’re a hard team to come back on given those circumstances.”

Wake’s chances of a comeback clearly took a hit when Carolina (18-2, 5-1 ACC) ran off seven straight points in 40 seconds to push its lead to 63-49.

Before that, the Demon Deacons had matched the Tar Heels’ energy and stayed within a couple possessions of the lead the entire game. Wake trailed 56-49 when point guard Ish Smith made a layup with 13:52 remaining, and it forced the shot-clock violation on UNC’s next possession. The Joel Coliseum crowd still had reason to think an upset was possible.

Then Wake responded by scoring 11 points the rest of the game.

The Deacs (9-10, 1-6) didn’t help themselves by shooting 31.3 percent from the free-throw line and 32.4 percent from the field.

“I’d rather give them credit,” Prosser said of Carolina’s defense. “But we missed a lot of open looks. They weren’t guarding us at the foul line that I can remember, and we shot worse there than we did from the field.

“But, again, I’d rather give them credit.”

Credit Carolina for its transition offense, its recommitment to rebounding in the second half and its balanced scoring attack.

The Tar Heels were outrebounded 20-17 in the first half but finished with a 44-38 advantage. Four players had at least five rebounds.

UNC also got a big second-half boost from point guard Ty Lawson. A freshman, Lawson played nine minutes, had two fouls and scored no points in the first half. He finished with 15 points, five assists and three steals.

“He’s pretty poker-faced about most things,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “I did tell him he should be well-rested, that we needed a good half out of him, and I’ve been talking to him a little more recently about not ignoring his shot because he can shoot the basketball.

“It’s great to have a point guard that’s pass-first, but don’t ignore your open shots.”

Lawson didn’t after halftime, and neither did anyone else.

The Tar Heels had five players score in double figures, led by freshman Wayne Ellington’s game-high 18 points. Tyler Hansbrough had 13 points and nine rebounds, and Brandan Wright and Danny Green scored 12 apiece.

All of those players contributed as Carolina put the game out of reach.

Reserve forward Alex Stephenson’s slam dunk started a 24-4 run with just less than 13 minutes remaining, and Lawson then got a layup after a behind-the-back dribble. Green followed with one of his three 3-pointers, Wright made a basket in the lane, Lawson hit a pair of free throws, and Ellington made back-to-back baskets for the Tar Heels’ first 20-point lead at 72-51.

That all came in a four-minute span.

“We were getting the crowd out of the game, and we were all getting in the flow of the game,” Lawson said. “Everybody was getting touches and scoring.”

It looked pretty impressive to Wake.

“They’re deep and athletic, so they keep bringing guys off the bench and pushing the ball really well,” said Wake center Kyle Visser, who led his team with 16 points. “It’s like they don’t skip a beat really with any of their subs off the bench.

“They like to push the ball and push the ball. If they can keep running guys in five at a time, it’s hard to keep up with that.”

*

NOTES: The final margin dipped below 30 points because former Davie County multi-sport athlete Matt “Foo” Smith made a 3-pointer with a few seconds remaining. Smith had played in only one other game, against Gardner-Webb, all season. … Wake has now lost five straight and is alone in last place in the ACC. … Only Miami (9-12) has a worse overall record among conference teams.

*

Contact Nick Bowton at 704-797-4256 or nbowton@salisburypost.com.

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