Wake Forest's Frank Johnson made his last hurrah at home a memorable one tonight, starting a Demon deacon comeback in a dramatic, 73-66 overtime upset of sluggish third-ranked Virginia at Memorial Coliseum.
Johnson, who came back to star this season after a serious leg injury a year ago, finished with 22 points -- including the dunk that sealed the victory -- four steals and two assists in handing the regular-season champions their first Atlantic Coast Conference defeat.
Virginia, now 12-1 in the ACC and 23-2 overall, wrapped up the regular-season title when the Deacons (9-4, 21-4) suffered back-to-back losses at Clemson and Maryland last week.
Tonight's game was one the Cavaliers, who were trying to regroup from a stunning, 57-56 last-second loss to Notre Dame Sunday, didn't deserve to win. Ralph Sampson did little in the second half, partly because his teammates ignored the 7-foot-4 center most of the half, and partly because of Wake's sagging defense.
In any case, Sampson made only one of seven shots from the floor in the second half to finish with a total of 14 points. His only second-half basket was a tip with nine seconds left to tie the game, 61-61, and force overtime. Wake's Mike Helms missed a corner jump shot with two seconds remaining.
Sampson fouled out in the extra period, trying to follow a missed Lee Raker shot.
The player he fouled, Johnson, dropped in both shots of the one and one to put his team ahead, 65-63, with 1:37 left. Jeff Lamp, who was the Cavalier offense in the second half, forced a 15-footer that swished through to bring Virginia even with 1:10 to play.
The rest of the sometimes sloppy contest belonged to the Deacons. With Sampson gone, Wake's strategy was simple -- go inside to 6-10 Jim Johnstone.
Sampson had blocked three of Johnstone's shots earlier in the game, but with Sampson gone, there was no hesitation on the Wake center's part. He took a Johnson press and was fouled. His two free throws atoned for the two he missed earlier in overtime and Wake was in front to stay, 67-65, with 52 seconds left.
Lamp, who led his team with 26 points, got a little bump from Johnson and his 20-footer went in and came out. Jeff Jones fouled Helms, who dropped in a pair of free throws and Wake was up, 69-65, with 35 seconds left.
Virginia's Othell Wilson made one of two free throws to cut the deficit to three points, 69-66. Wake's Danny Young missed the first shot in a one-and-one and the Cavaliers still had hope.
But, after a battle of timeouts, Virginia's inbounds pass sailed over everyone's head and Johnson, who could probably outrun Houston McTear on a basketball court, caught up with the ball at midcourt, and sped in for a dunk and a 71-66 Wake lead.
"It was a great way to go out," Johnson said. "We controlled the tempo and the officials let us play. We got them in a 94-foot game and that was the key."
Virginia had the best of things in the first half. Wake's offense was asleep and Sampson (12 points), Lee Raker (eight) and Lamp (six) were able to get free for open shots and fire the visitors to a 10-point lead at the half, 34-24.
The Deacons can thank their stars they weren't 20 points behind after going without a point for 6:11 and without a field goal for 9:18.Four points by Anthony Teachey at the end of the half gave Wake some cause to believe it still had a chance.
"We played the worst half we've played all year," said Wake Coach Carl Tacy. "You just can't beat anyone shooting 28 percent.I think the tone of the game was set for us in the second half. With our defensive play, we knew that if we were to get back on top of our game, it would have to come from the defense."