WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – The wind whipped around Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum as fans made their way into the arena before Saturday’s second-round NIT game. Given the 80-degree temperatures outside, ice was the last thing fans could have expected.
The ice appeared, though – seemingly forming over the visiting basket. VCU endured a run of nearly 10 minutes without a bucket, knocking down just two of its final 15 tries in an 80-74 loss.
The sides engaged in an early back-and-forth battle. Dallas Walton gave the Deacs the early lead with a right-side triple, with both sides struggling to create separation any greater than two possessions for much of the first 14 minutes of the half. Wake Forest (25-9) changed all that in a two-minute span, however.
Following a Vince Williams triple for VCU that cut the Wake lead to a single point, the home side unleashed a 13-3 burst, with back-to-back threes from Daivien Williamson and Walton keying the run. The spurt transformed a 25-24 Demon Deacon lead into a 38-27 advantage. VCU (22-10) went on a quick 6-0 string – all courtesy of Williams – to slice the deficit to five with 2:37 to play. Wake sank five free throws to take a 43-35 margin to the interval.
VCU struggled to find shots at times in the opening stanza, but just as easily seemed to hoist attempts in the first two segments of the closing period. The Rams tried 12 shots in the first seven minutes of the period, dropping six. The connections helped the Virginian visitors slowly slice into the deficit, as VCU drew within four just before the second stoppage of the half.
The Rams clipped the Wake lead to within a single possession with 11:32 to play on yet another Williams triple, with a chance to tie hanging in the balance. The Rams went cold, however – as did the Deacons. The sides combined to miss 14 straight shots in a five-plus minute span, leaving Wake unable to extend its advantage any further. VCU again crept within three by virtue of its free throw prowess, only for Alondes Williams to convert an up-and-under bucket to put Wake ahead, 65-60, inside five minutes remaining.
VCU pulled within three following two Ace Baldwin free throws but could draw no closer. Jayden Nunn dropped a triple at the two-minute mark to end a string of 9:32 without a Ram bucket, but Wake was able to put away the game from the charity stripe.
Five Deacons finished the game in double figures. Williams paced Wake with 19 points, knocking down 6-of-13 from the deck and 6-of-12 from the line. Walton added 16 on 5-of-6 shooting, with Jake LaRavia tallying 15. Williamson totaled 14, while Cameron Hildreth finished with 10. Wake finished the game shooting 43.1 percent (22-for-51), despite a somewhat messy 28 percent (7-for-25) from distance. The Deacs dropped 29-of-37 (78.4 percent) from the line.
Williams led all scorers with a career-high 27 points for the Rams. Williams converted 7-of-15 from the floor and 10-of-11 from the line. Nunn was the only other Ram to reach doubles, finishing with 18 on 6-of-11 shooting (6-of-10 from distance). VCU shot 40.4 percent (21-of-52) from the maple, knocking down 9-of-25 (36 percent) from three. VCU hit 23 of its 27 tries from the stripe (85.2 percent).
Wake now moves on to an NIT quarterfinal matchup with top-seeded Texas A&M. The game will take place in College Station, Texas, with the date and time to be announced later.