Behind a career high 28 point performance by James Johnson, Wake Forest dispatched the NC State Wolfpack 85-78 in a game that could have been won my much more. The Demon Deacons dominated much of the first half, but let NC State creep back in before trading baskets for most of the second half. Johnson's performance was one of the best by any Deacon this season. He also pulled down a career high 18 rebounds to go with the 28 points.
Johnson's performance carried the Deacons all night long, and head coach Dino Gaudio knew it. "He wouldn't let us lose. His work on the boards in the first half, as well as the second, was just outstanding. He grabbed every rebound. I was proud of him tonight."
"Our team needed a big win," said Johnson. "It came from the heart. I have been building up my game and improving and it was time for me to come out and show some of the stuff I've been working on. It was fun playing out there."
The first half began with impressive shooting performances by both teams. After five minutes Wake was shooting 70 percent and NC State was not much worse at 62.5 percent, with Wake holding a three point advantage at 15-12. Four minutes later, with the hot shooting continuing for both teams, NC State held a slight lead, 22-21.
Over the next six minutes Wake played some of their best basketball of the season. Wake went on an 18-2 run, with James Johnson scoring eight points and the team out-rebounding NC State 11-1 over the run. NC State responded with an 11-4 spurt of their own to close the half with Wake leading 43-35 at the half.
For the most part the second half was much less eventful than the first. The teams traded baskets back and forth, and although Wake never lost the lead NC State managed to cut it to two points several times in the first eight minutes of the half. Wake was able to push the lead back to nine but never again to double digits. Johnson continued to pour in points and grab rebounds, while Ishmael Smith hit several big shots including two three pointers to keep the Wolfpack at bay. State attempted one last comeback in the final minutes, but when Smith and Johnson connected for a huge alley-oop with a minute left in the game the Deacs hammered home the final nail in NC State's coffin.
"That was a hard fought, typical end of the season ACC game," said a noticeably happy Gaudio after the game. "I'm really proud of the way we gutted it out. This was a really, really good end of season ACC win for this basketball team."
Don't forget Ish
James Johnson's performance may have overshadowed any other story line from this game, but Ishmael Smith deserves recognition. With both Jeff Teague and Al-Farouq Aminu having sub-par performances, Smith stepped up in a big way. His 18 points were a season-high, and it was one point shy of his career best. He was 6-8 from the field and 4-4 from the free throw line.
McFarland shows signs of life
Many fans have wondered over the last month where Chas McFarland has been. He made his presence known against the Wolfpack with 15 points, his first double digit performance since January 14 at Boston College.
Dino Gaudio hasn't failed to notice the importance of McFarland's performance. "I told the kids before the game that when he scores double figures that we are 13-0. I think it's nine, but I had to play it up a little bit. We are now 10-0 when he scores in double figures."
The Deacons have no time to rest. They play at Virginia on Saturday afternoon and will travel first thing Friday morning. It is the first of a crucial two game road stretch before the home finale next weekend.