Thomas, Deacs rally to sack No. 18 N.C. State

Photo courtesy of Chuck Burton/AP Photos

“We live in the moment, and this is a great moment.”

These were the words of a proud head coach Jeff Bzdelik following Wake Forest’s electrifying 86-84 upset of No. 18 North Carolina State Jan. 22.

It was a game that many Demon Deacon fans will cherish as a packed crowd at the Joel Coliseum stormed the court after witnessing the defeat of a Wolfpack squad that many had picked to win the conference this season.

“What’s that thing at the NCAA tournament: ‘One Shining Moment’?” junior forward Travis McKie said. “It’s definitely mine. This will be mine right here. I’ll definitely remember this always.”

The victory marked the first time since February 2010 that the Deacs had defeated an Associated Press Top 25 team. It was also the first time since December 2009 that Wake had defeated in-state rival N.C. State.

The game’s early minutes were fairly close, but it was the Wolfpack that would take the lead, pulling out to 27-13 advantage at the midway point of the half. The Deacons would try to answer, but the Wolfpack would shot 55 percent in the first half and push the lead to as much as 16 with a minute remaining. They eventually took a 47-35 lead into the break.

Clare Stanton/Old Gold & Black

Wake came out in the second half, however, and played arguably one of their best halves of basketball in recent memory.

Led by an unlikely hero in freshman Devin Thomas, who scored 13 of his season-high 25 points in the second half, the Deacs slowly chipped at the N.C. State lead.

Wake would finally tie the game with 10 minutes left as McKie grabbed a loose ball in the lane and threw it down for an emphatic dunk

The Deacs would then take the lead on the next possession as Thomas stole the ball at midcourt.

The 6-foot-9 forward completed the breakaway dunk and the Joel exploded with excitement as he waved his arms to pump up the crowd.

The game was a back-and-forth affair for the next few minutes until Wake went on a 12-0 run to take their largest lead at 82-72 with four minutes to play.

The Wolfpack did not go quietly, however, as they prevented the Deacons from making a field goal for the remainder of the game. During the same stretch, Wake lost senior guard C.J. Harris to injury. The Winston-Salem native would return to a huge ovation with 29 seconds left and would hit one of two free throws to help the Deacs keep the lead.

N.C. State would pull to within two points on three separate occasions in the final two minutes of play, including with just 1.2 seconds to go as Wolfpack junior C.J. Leslie received a full-court pass and laid the ball in as many has though the game would be over.

This set up an exciting, yet tense final play as the Deacons would have to inbound the ball with 1.2 seconds to play and the score at 86-84 in favor of Wake.

Clare Stanton/Old Gold & Black

McKie threw the ball to midcourt, but it was stolen by N.C. State freshman T.J. Warren. Warren desperately heaved the ball at the rim, but to no avail as the student section that had lined up on the baseline at the Joel poured onto the court to celebrate the hard fought 86-84 victory.

“As soon as they started to get down to the bottom, I got excited,” McKie said. “In my years here, I’ve never seen anything like that. It was a blessing to me.”

The Deacons shot an impressive 59 percent in the second half as they outscored the Wolfpack 51-37.

“I challenged them at halftime,” Bzdelik said. “I thought we were tentative. I thought we were unsure, and we didn’t have that belief that we could play, and I really challenged them and they responded.”

“We were playing a little timid in the first half, giving up offensive transition points, offensive rebounds, not running our offense hard,” Thomas said. “At halftime coach got into us and said we needed to come out strong in the second half and pick that intensity up and pull out the win.”

Thomas finished the game with his first career double-double, scoring 25 points and pulling down 14 rebounds. He led the Deacs in every major offensive category as well, dishing four assists, blocking four shots and recording three steals.

“I watched Devin Thomas play in probably every single one of his summer season games,” Bzdelik said.

“I saw that young man get 44 points and 23 rebounds in a high school game. He just plays with unbelievable passion, energy and fearlessness, so I’m not surprised by the game he played. As a young player he just needed to get his confidence, as all young players do, and I thought they all grew up in a big way today.”

Wake saw 60 of their 86 points come from five of their freshman players.

“The freshman, they grew up,” Harris said. “They put us on their back, Dev, Codi, all of them.”

The Demon Deacons will now prepare for a road matchup with Georgia Tech Jan. 26, but this win will no doubt be fresh in the minds of players and fans alike, as it gives hope to a program that has seen its fair share of difficulties in recent times.

“For my two years here, I have expected none of this,” McKie said.

“A lot of losing, a lot of misery, a lot of depression. But to have a win like this on our home floor and to have the fans rush the court is definitely a great experience and something I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.”

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