WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — It looked as if the Virginia Tech men’s basketball team might wake up just in time to steal a victory over Wake Forest on Saturday. But during an early-afternoon affair in which the Hokies admitted they weren’t prepared from the start, it was only fitting they were done in by a mental lapse.
After Virginia Tech clawed its way back to take its first lead of the day in the waning moments of the second half, the Demon Deacons’ C.J. Harris held the ball at the top of the key with the score tied at 55, waiting for a screen from center Carson Desrosiers. When it arrived, Hokies guard Erick Green went under it, giving Harris what he would later call “a routine shot” with 18 seconds remaining.
Harris swished the ensuing three-pointer, and when guard Robert Brown’s last-ditch step-back effort from beyond the arc clanked off the iron, Wake Forest had escaped with a thrilling 58-55 victory to open conference play.
Virginia Tech (11-4, 0-1) is now just 1-7 all-time in ACC openers since joining the league in 2004, and had its six-game winning streak end in the process.
Whatever momentum the Hokies brought with them to Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum wasn’t evident early on. Virginia Tech fell behind, 21-8, and shot just 32.3 percent before halftime against a tough Demon Deacons zone defense.
Afterward, Coach Seth Greenberg called out his three upperclassmen — Green, guard Dorenzo Hudson and forward Victor Davila — for not setting the appropriate tone during pregame, saying the team’s slow start had him “extremely disappointed. I’m not gonna sugarcoat that.”
Even worse, Wake Forest (10-5, 1-0) won just one conference game a season ago and entered Saturday as the second-worst rebounding team in the ACC this season. By the time the final buzzer sounded, though, the Demon Deacons had outrebounded Virginia Tech by 10.
Harris finished with a team-high 13 points for Wake Forest, which also got 12 points and 15 rebounds from forward Travis McKie.
“I just feel like our minds weren’t in the game when the game started,” said Virginia Tech sophomore Jarell Eddie, who scored 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting from three-point range. “It was definitely a learning experience today. Guys definitely learned that we’ve got to go into ACC play, especially on the road, with a different mind-set, a better approach.”
Despite that sluggish beginning, and nine turnovers in the second half, the Hokies still found themselves in a position to steal a road win late. Down by eight at halftime, Virginia Tech took its first lead of the game, 53-52, when Eddie made a three-pointer with 1 minute 20 seconds remaining to cap a 9-2 surge.
Harris soon connected on a three-pointer on the other end to put the Demon Deacons back up by two. But Green, who finished with a team-high 19 points and six assists, didn’t shy away from the moment and hit a pull-up jumper to tie the score with 45 seconds left on the clock.
That, though, only set the stage for Harris’s game-winner, a play in which Green admitted he never should have gone under the screen. But even he seemed to realize it was the Hokies’ start, not the finish, that ultimately cost them a victory.
“The way we came out, the way we played today, we didn’t deserve to win,” Green said.