WINSTON-SALEM — Wake Forest's James Johnson couldn't feign disbelief Wednesday night after the top-ranked Deacons had their unbeaten season spoiled in a 78-71 basketball loss to Virginia Tech in Joel Coliseum.
"It was fun while it lasted," Johnson said. "We lost. There's no 'stunned' to it."
After winning their first 16 games and ascending to the top of the national rankings on Monday, the Deacons saw their storybook start come to a jarring end as the Hokies built a 16-point first-half lead and outplayed the Deacons in seemingly every way.
If there was a shock value to the result, given the Deacons' No. 1 ranking, there was no surprise among the Deacons after the Hokies pierced their defense and answered each challenge.
"The better team won," Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio said.
And if being the nation's new No. 1 had anything to do with it, Gaudio and the Deacons (16-1, 3-1 ACC) weren't buying it. Gaudio said his team had been loose all week.
What the Deacons showed was a sudden dullness to their defense, which had been the overshadowed element in their climb up the national rankings.
The Deacons ranked second nationally in field-goal defense (36.2 percent) entering the game but couldn't faze the Hokies, who shot 56 percent in the second half while counter-punching every Wake Forest comeback attempt.
"Our defense really let us down," Gaudio said.
Almost from the outset, it was a game that had an unexpected storyline. Before the game was five minutes old, Johnson was on the bench with two fouls and freshman forward Al-Farouq Aminu was in the dressing room, getting four stitches in his forehead after catching an elbow under the basket.
It seemed to disrupt the Deacons' rhythm and, other than a few moments in the second half, they didn't find it.
They weren't helped by the fact center Chas McFarland played just 11 scoreless minutes due to foul trouble.
Guard Jeff Teague scored 23 points but nothing came easily for the Deacons.
"Our defense in the first half was great," Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg said. "It was as good as we could play against a team that level."
The Hokies (13-5, 3-1) made their plan work at both ends of the floor. Offensively, they were able to attack the Deacons behind guard Malcolm Delaney (21 points), Jeff Allen (16) and A.D. Vassalo (16) by taking advantage of Wake Forest's dull edge.
They negated much of Wake's offensive explosiveness by playing aggressive, physical defense with a concentration on eliminating drives to the basket by Teague.
At halftime, Virginia Tech led 34-24 and when the Deacons tried to regain control after the break, they couldn't.
Every time Wake Forest would hit Virginia Tech, the Hokies would hit back.
When Virginia Tech scored on 10 of 11 possessions in one stretch, Gaudio knew his team was in trouble.
The Deacons got within two points in the closing minutes but never got even.
"Losing happens," said Johnson, who had 18 points. "You can't let it affect you. We have a lot of basketball left."
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