[B]Deacons’ year quickly going from very bad to really bad[/B]
[I]By Lenox Rawlings, Winston-Salem Journal Columnist[/I]
Wake Forest’s dreary season turned a darker shade of gray last night. The Boston College Eagles moved like they had eaten too much barbecue and launched foul shots that resembled wounded ducks, but that didn’t matter. They won 72-66.
A hopeful Deacons audience filled nearly every seat except the upper deck behind the student section, but that didn’t matter. Slipshod play lulled many fans into silence, and the looming prospect of the ninth loss in 10 games sent thousands toward the exits with nearly 3 minutes left.
The quickly departed guessed correctly, although no one could have predicted BC’s free-throw follies. The Eagles made only 5 of their last 16 and 30 of 50 overall, the attempts column setting a Joel Coliseum record.
At the end of a draining ACC experience, the Eagles held on and Coach Skip Prosser of Wake Forest let go, his shoulders slumping at softer angles than the Deacons’ sharp nosedive.
This is how bad things have gotten: Wake Forest (12-11, 1-9 ACC) strengthened its grip on last place. This is how bad things might get: If Wake Forest doesn’t beat UNC Charlotte at home on Saturday afternoon, the National Invitation Tournament consolation prize could evaporate.
Prosser expressed gratitude for the fans’ support, however subdued, but gave few thanks for the Deacons’ uninspired rebounding or zone defense.
“As I told the players,” Prosser said, “I don’t have too many speeches in my bag for a team that’s 1-9. I’m speaking anyway. I’m trying to make them up as we go along.”
His pregame speech and scouting report emphasized the zone defenses that Wake Forest planned for dealing with BC shooters, especially freshman Tyrese Rice, the prospect who got away last spring about the time Chris Paul applied for the millionaires’ club.
Rice drifted beyond the zone and fired away, hitting 6 of 8 3-pointers and scoring 23 points on just 9 field-goal attempts. The efficiency rescued other Eagles from their own naps and buried the Deacons.
Coach Al Skinner reveled in the one element that eased BC toward records of 18-5 overall and 6-4 in its first ACC race.
“You’ve got to keep a guy in front of him,” Skinner said. “If you don’t, he feels pretty good about letting it go.”
The Deacons felt badly about watching Rice’s missiles nail the target, particularly freshman Harvey Hale (13 points, four assists, four steals).
“After he hit two,” Hale said, “I told myself: ‘You’ve got to get up on him.’ I did, but he was already hot.”
The Deacons heated up after halftime and tied the score at 42 midway through the second half. In routine fashion, they dropped a cylinder driving home. Senior Justin Gray (24 points) shook his head and spoke softly.
“I think I’m a little frustrated right now,” Gray said. “Nobody wants to lose. Nobody on this team probably wants to win more than me, every game. I’m sure everybody in that locker room feels that way.”
As the losses add up, the short-term questions sag like an overloaded golf cart.
Can Wake Forest stay above .500 and lure the NIT folks? Can Wake Forest dodge last place?
The long-term questions started popping up about the time the Deacons hit the skids, led by the rampant and unsubstantiated speculation that Prosser will bolt his sweet Wake Forest deal for the University of Cincinnati.
Although the logic has more holes than the Deacons’ defense, constant repetition has transformed rumor into accepted fact among some fans. The contorted logic rises from the premise that Prosser preferred living in Cincinnati and that the university would love to hire a former local.
In many ways, the logic seems contradictory. Prosser coached Xavier, Cincinnati’s rival. Would Wake Forest rush out and hire N.C. State’s former coach on the rebound?
Taken from the other side, why would Prosser leave a high-profile, high-paying job with a semblance of security? Why would Prosser want to take over a declining Cincinnati program in a soaring conference, the Big East?
The Bearcats beat Louisville on Monday night, improving their records to 16-8 overall and 5-5 in the league, tied for eighth place with Syracuse.
Andy Kennedy, a Jim Valvano recruit at N.C. State, holds the shaky title of interim coach. Despite wins over LSU, Vanderbilt and Rutgers, Kennedy must await the ultimate administration decisions. Athletics Director Mike Thomas, a former Virginia bureaucrat under Terry Holland and more recently Akron’s athletics director, evidently will weigh every option before confirming or rejecting Kennedy.
The stretch run obviously could determine his fate, but the chase will not solve Cincinnati’s looming personnel crisis. The top two scorers, James White and Eric Hicks of Greensboro Dudley, are seniors, and so are two other players among the top six. That leaves freshman guard Devan Downey of Chester, S.C., and junior forward Cedric McGowan.
Prosser hasn’t announced his intentions, one way or the other, but the odds of him heading off to the Queen City, Ohio, division, seem substantially longer than often assumed.
If he stays, though, completing the puzzle could require more pieces than Wake Forest has in the house or on the way. Gray, Eric Williams, Chris Ellis and Trent Strickland will exhaust their eligibility, which means that only one of last night’s starters will hang around, walk-on Michael Drum.
The rest of the current cast - Hale, Kevin Swinton, Cameron Stanley and Kyle Visser - will get help from 6-10 redshirt David Weaver and five recruits. Among the newcomers, point guard Ishmael Smith of Concord, wing guard Anthony Gurley of Massachusetts and forward Jamie Skeen of the Charlotte suburbs could figure in the equation.
But who can figure recruiting? Who could have figured that all these veterans from the Chris Paul glory days would sink to the ACC bottom?
Maybe they will show signs of life the rest of the way, but the lethargic performance in the sometimes dead building last night suggests otherwise.