COLUMN: Let it Roll, Baby, Roll
Jan. 23, 2013
By Rob Daniels, WakeForestSports.com
Wake Forest's iconic Quad, the academic-residential-religious space with movie-star looks, has been covered in white lately. Last week, the season's first snow was worth a roll on the grounds of Hearn Plaza. And late Tuesday night, after a compelling win over No. 18 NC State, toilet paper filled the trees for the first winter in three.
And in the process, the Demon Deacons' basketball coach traded places with the students as Jeff Bzdelik drove from Joel Coliseum to the shadows of Reynolda Hall and watched the kids create the mayhem. They unrolled and threw and generally reveled in honor of freshman Devin Thomas, he of the 25 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and four blocked shots, and several of his classmates.
From the depths of a 16-point deficit in the final minute of the first half, the Deacs scratched their way back with extended arms, sharp cuts, sharper passes and quite simply the program's best performance since undeniable NBA talent populated the roster. It was more than the first win over a ranked team since Feb. 13, 2010, a long-since forgotten 11-point decision over No. 20 Georgia Tech; it was Bzdelik's first opportunity to enjoy himself and to hear and see that rumored animal known as ACC basketball euphoria, the one they told the Colorado transplant about when he took the gig. At times, this creature has been consigned to legend status, with words of its appearance met with snickers and suggestions about the counsel of licensed professionals.
The Yeti came down off the mountaintop, brought there by Codi Miller-McIntyre and Arnaud William Adala Moto and even the wise men Travis McKie and C.J. Harris, the last of whom missed most of the final few minutes after taking an inadvertent forearm to the noggin.
Offensively, Bzdelik wanted his team to attack the zone State briefly employed in the second half, and there was a plan: Flash a guy to the foul line, send a cutter along the baseline and deliver the bounce pass in choreographed precision. Names and roles changed, but at one point, five freshmen did the bulk of the work in a 10-0 run that swung the game Wake's way.
The young Deacs would need every bit of it, of course. Beating the Wolfpack was a mile-marker of an accomplishment and so few will quibble with the inability to prevent the 10-point lead from slipping.
Thomas played like a guy who had heard too many chants about his sister's superiority. Alyssa Thomas of Maryland is one of the ACC's best, but little brother can play, too. Actually, Devin Thomas doesn't so much play as he crashes. Obsessed to get the ball in his hands and undeterred when he does, the undersized post player was at his best in a game where nothing would be conceded. He is now among the nation's Top 10 rebounders among freshmen, and he's only the second rookie in the land with a game of 25 or more points and 14 or more rebounds. (Anthony Bennett, who may have left his heart in San Francisco but now plays in Vegas for UNLV, is the other.)
The Pack and Deacs rebounded more than half of their own misses and failed only at the foul line. Wake Forest defended Scott Wood so well that when the State senior was wide open with a chance to put his team in front in the final minute, he couldn't believe it. The 3-point attempt grazed the rim.
After a check of 10 replays and other delays, it ended with students first rushing the court in one location and others sharing their Bounty or perhaps similar brand of tissue with the space they'd pass on their way to class 12 hours later.
For most of his two and a half seasons, Bzdelik has been assigned to clean-up duty in a program marked by Exodus and Numbers but few public readings of Genesis. This time, they'll let the joyous debris hang around a while.
"First of all, I want to thank our fans,"he said. "Our fans were really behind us and never gave up on us. Especially when we were down by 16 at one time, the fans were there for us. Our team battled back, I used the word resilient last time I sat in this chair here, and they are. They showed great character and passion in that locker room. They battled back and they fought hard with the support of our fans. Devin Thomas showed such an effort. You look at his line, good gracious, what can you say?"
Bzdelik, for his part, didn't say much when asked to reflect on the satisfaction he felt then or would enjoy with the little side trip.
"We live in the moment," he said, "and this is a great moment."
The Quad's chapel is named for the University's first President, a Baptist minister from New York with a name that gives pause, Samuel Wait. On Tuesday night, they could wait no longer.
And in the words of the prophet James Douglas Morrison, who at least grew up in ACC country, let it roll, baby, roll. All night long.