WINSTON-SALEM—Bryant Crawford led four players in double figures with 20 points as Wake Forest knocked Illinois from the ranks of the undefeated in an 80-73 win in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge Tuesday night.Doral Moore, Mitchell Wilbekin, and Brandon Childress added 12 points apiece for Wake Forest (3-4), which held Illinois to 38.7 percent shooting using a stingy 2-3 zone defense.After watching several late leads slip away in earlier losses, Coach Danny Manning of Wake Forest was proud of the way his team finished against Illinois.
”I thought it was a top-dog game in terms of how we competed tonight,” Manning said. ”They had a physical presence all game, but we met that physicality and were strong with the ball. That put us in a situation to have some success. I think everyone that stepped on the court contributed something and it was a good team win for us, something that we can build upon.”
Aaron Jordan came off the bench to lead Illinois with 20 points, with Kipper Nichols adding 14 and Leron Black finishing with 10. Jordan, who entered the game leading the NCAA in 3-point percentage (15 of 23, 65.2 percent), made 4 of 6 against the Deacons.It was the first loss for the Illini (6-1), who played their first six games at home and sought their first non-conference road win since beating Boston University in the NIT on March 19, 2014.After grabbing a 27-20 lead with 8:56 left in the first half, Illinois went cold from the floor and endured a scoreless stretch of 5 minutes, 21 seconds as Wake Forest clawed back into the game.
”We had a bad stretch in the first half with three straight turnovers and we took two quick shots,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. ”We weren’t getting the ball to the interior of their zone and combine that with the turnovers and the fouls we were committing in the backcourt and they were parading to the free throw line.”
The Deacons were on a 13-2 run at the end of the first half, making 6 of 8 free throws during the stretch, before Nichols’ 3-pointer at the buzzer stopped the bleeding.Leading 35-34 at halftime, the Deacons used an 11-0 run early in the second half to take a 49-39 lead. Illinois closed to within 1 at 56-55 on a 3-pointer by Black with 9:25 left but could get no closer.The Deacons made 10 of 13 free throws in the second half and 19 of 23 for the game, something that was not lost on Manning.
”It’s one thing to get to the free throw line, but our guys are doing a pretty good job right now of making them as well,” Manning said. ”So, we’ve got to continue to reward ourselves when we get there by knocking them down.”
Despite the loss, Underwood said he saw some positive signs from his team.
”I liked our fight and I liked our competitiveness, but we probably shot too many 3’s tonight,” Underwood said. ”A lot of credit to Wake Forest as they continue to get better as the season goes on.
Wake Forest is now 12-5 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, tied with Virginia for second most wins.