Harris, Wake Forest edge Virginia 55-52
C.J. Harris and his Wake Forest teammates watched shot after shot roll off the rim against Virginia's revitalized defense as the Cavaliers pushed their way back into the game.
Ultimately, the Demon Deacons saved themselves from a crushing loss by knocking down enough free throws to hang on.
Harris scored 16 points — including a pair of free throws with 5.3 seconds left — and Wake Forest survived a 10-minute drought without a basket to end the game in a 55-52 win against Virginia on Wednesday night.
"We stayed together," Harris said. "We didn't point a finger because our shots weren't falling. And our defense didn't waver even though our shots weren't falling — and that showed growth."
The Demon Deacons (8-6, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) showed just enough composure to hang on for their first league win against a team coming off a big home victory last weekend.
After Harris' last two free throws, the Cavaliers (11-4, 1-1) had one more chance. But Jontel Evans threw the ball away on the wing and Joe Harris couldn't collect the ball in time for a desperation 3-point heave before the horn sounded.
Wake Forest shot just 26 percent (5 for 19) after halftime and missed its last eight shots, the kind of stats that would normally lead to a loss. But the Demon Deacons made 15 of 18 free throws (83 percent) after halftime to cling to what was left of a 14-point second-half lead.
Harris hit all eight of his free throws, with six coming in the final 79 seconds.
Wake Forest's last field goal was a perfectly executed give-and-go layup by Codi Miller McIntyre off a feed from fellow freshman Devin Thomas, giving the Demon Deacons a 46-32 lead with 10:22 left.
"I knew we didn't put a basket up in a while but I didn't think it was 10 minutes," said Travis McKie, who had 14 points for Wake Forest. "We just continued to run our stuff and tried to make free throws. ... I don't know how we won the game without making a field goal in the last 10 minutes. I can't even answer that, but we did tonight."
Wake Forest shot 52 percent (13 of 25) in the first half by constantly attacking the rim against Virginia's normally stingy defense. That helped the Demon Deacons build their lead, and the Cavaliers struggled to cut into the deficit until the final 6 minutes.
"We just battled," Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik said. "We defended our tails off from wire to wire."
Joe Harris hit a 3-pointer with 16.5 seconds left to make it a one-possession game, then knocked down a contested 3 over C.J. Harris from right in front of the Virginia bench that made it 53-52 with 6.3 seconds left.
But outside of that frantic flurry, Virginia's offense sputtered. The Cavaliers shot 36.4 percent (20 of 55) and committed 17 turnovers, their second highest total of the season.
Wake Forest, coming off a loss at No. 1 Duke in its ACC opener, scored 15 points off those turnovers.
"I think we were outplayed for the majority of that game, 35 minutes," Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. "We got out of the gates and turned the ball over at an alarming rate. Our upperclassmen, we were out of synch and played rushed. I think that really affected us."
Virginia was coming off a 61-52 home win against North Carolina on Sunday night. Beating the Demon Deacons would've made the Cavaliers 2-0 in the league for the first time since starting 3-0 in Bennett's first season in 2009-10. Before that, the Cavaliers hadn't won their first two ACC games since the 1994-95 season.
Virginia hit 8 of 14 3-pointers against the Tar Heels. The Cavaliers went 1 for 9 from behind the arc Wednesday night before Harris' two 3s in the final seconds.
Freshman Mike Tobey had 14 points to lead the Cavaliers.
"I don't know exactly what we can pin it on," said Harris, who finished with 13 points for the Cavaliers. "We just lacked execution, focus, energy, you name it. We didn't come ready to play and we didn't deserve to win this game."
It was Wake Forest's 10th straight home win against Virginia, which hasn't won in Winston-Salem since January 2000.