WINSTON-SALEM — Wake Forest senior forward Travis McKie glanced down a stat sheet that revealed the Deacons record after their 65-58 ACC basketball victory Saturday against Notre Dame at Joel Coliseum.
Were 14-6? McKie said in near wonderment. Thats the most wins weve had since Ive been here.
The Deacons (4-3 in the ACC) are assured of having their most productive season at least judging by number of victories since 2009-10, when they went 20-11 and played in the NCAA tournament. Since then, theyve mostly struggled under coach Jeff Bzdelik, who was hired after Dino Gaudio was fired in 2010.
That shows that were definitely growing as a team, said McKie, who was a high school senior in Richmond, Va., in 2009 and is now surrounded by four sophomores in the Deacons starting lineup. Our young guys are growing each and every game.
With forward Devin Thomas scoring 21 points on 10-of-11 shooting, the Deacons won for a 13th consecutive time at Joel Coliseum (stretching to last season). They also built on their victory last Wednesday at Virginia Tech, Wake Forests second ACC road triumph in Bzdeliks three-plus seasons.
Theyll need all that momentum this Wednesday when No. 2 Syracuse comes to town.
But Saturday the Deacons put away another ACC newcomer in Notre Dame (11-9, 2-5), which still hasnt won a road game in the conference, nor recaptured the promise it showed when beating Duke in their first league game.
Thomas, who made his first 10 shots, was the main reason why. That and the Deacons 3-point defense, which limited the Irish to 2-of-16 shooting from long range.
I made my first couple of shots, which gave me confidence, said Thomas, who is also the ACCs leading rebounder and had six Saturday. Coach told me to keep shooting the ball and when that happens, it gives you no worries.
The Deacons, who had a nine-point lead evaporate in the first half, led by eight in the second half before the Irish rallied. Notre Dame took a 54-53 lead on a free throw by center Sherman Garrick (20 points).
But Wake Forest scored on six consecutive possessions making eight consecutive free throws at one point to put Notre Dame away.
Youve got to give credit to their defense, Irish coach Mike Brey said. We had some great looks early in the game that make you feel good on the road. But we could never make enough 3s. If youre going to steal a game on the road, somebodys got to make a big 3 for you. I didnt think any of them were going in.
McKie added 14 points for Wake Forest, with reserve guard Coron Williams scoring 11.
Notre Dame played a 2-3 zone for much of the game. Thats the defense at which Syracuse excels and the Deacons are already preparing for it.
Theyve got some long players, and theyre really explosive in it, McKie said.
Facing the Orange will also provide a true measure of how far the Deacons have come.
Were buying more into what coach is saying now, said Thomas said. Were playing together more, more energy, more effort. It was important not to have a letdown after (Virginia Tech). Syracuse will come in with a lot of confidence, and it should be a good one.