Pitt gets Wake Forest in first appearance in ACC men's basketball tournament


GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Wake Forest beat Notre Dame, 81-69, Wednesday in its first round-game of the ACC tournament, and a big reason was the Demon Deacons grabbed 10 more rebounds than the Fighting Irish.

That's a good thing, according to Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik. The Demon Deacons have struggled with rebounding this season, and that was especially true Jan. 11 when Pitt beat them, 80-65, at Petersen Events Center.

Now, his Demon Deacons (17-15) will get an opportunity to show just how much they have improved their rebounding when Wake Forest faces the Panthers (23-8) in an ACC tournament second-round game at 2 p.m. today at Greensboro Coliseum.

"Rebounding has been our Achilles' heel all year long," Bzdelik said Wednesday after Wake Forest's win against the Irish. "But we finally rebounded the ball. What I remember [about the first game against Pitt] is getting beat very badly on the boards.

"I can't specifically remember the numbers [Pitt outrebounded Wake Forest by 10], but they pretty much manhandled us around the rim. Obviously, we're going to have to do a great job of finding bodies, hitting them first, carving out space.

"Most definitely, that's the biggest thing I remember about that game."

The Demon Deacons, 14th in the ACC in rebounding margin per game (minus-1.5), have been so poor in that area that the coaching staff ran them through some physical rebounding drills right on the court Wednesday in the pregame warm-ups.

"Should have been doing that all year long," Bzdelik said.

Sophomore Devin Thomas was one of the few bright spots for the Demon Deacons when they played against Pitt, scoring 17 points and grabbing nine rebounds.

Wednesday against the Fighting Irish, Thomas, from Harrisburg, had another big game, scoring 19 points and claiming 10 rebounds. Afterwards, he said the Demon Deacons will have to be much tougher today against the Panthers than they were the first time.

"We just beat ourselves [against Pitt], we didn't play well, we didn't shoot well, we didn't rebound well, but those are all things that can be fixed," Thomas said.

"But [correcting those mistakes] falls on all of us, nothing can be done individually. It takes five to get things done, and we need to watch the film and see what we can do to rebound better besides boxing out.

"But it wasn't just rebounding, it was us not guarding the ball, taking bad shots, a lot of that loss had to do with us. Pitt is a very good team, don't get me wrong, and I am sure they are going to be ready to play, but so will we. We just need to be ready to play."

Although rebounding is a major theme for the Demon Deacons in this tournament, the quest for redemption for the players and their embattled coach has been a chip on their shoulder.

Rumors and reports are swirling that Bzdelik is on an extremely hot seat. This is his fourth year was Wake Forest's coach, and he has not led the Demon Deacons to the NCAA tournament or, to this point, a winning record.

If nothing else, the win against Notre Dame gave him a reprieve as it clinched his first non-losing record and provided his first ACC tournament victory.

In fact, the Demon Deacons hadn't won an ACC tournament game since 2007, when they beat Georgia Tech, 114-112, in double overtime in a first-round game.

Bzdelik stressed that Wake Forest's mission is not about him, but then he sounded like a coach trying to make a strong case to remain on the job for another season.

"This means a lot," Bzdelik said about his first ACC tournament win. "It is not only my first tournament win, it is Wake's first win in about seven or eight years. We talked about that coming into the game. We just wanted to break the streak not only for this team but for Wake Forest

"This is another step in the right direction, no question. I have two responsibilities: I have the responsibility to win, I get that, and I have the responsibility to protect the integrity of the university, I get that.

"And there can't be a trade off between one or the other. "

One Demon Deacons player with a history against the Panthers is guard Coron Williams, who scored a game-high 25 points against the Irish and delivered some huge baskets down the stretch to help put the game away.

Williams played the previous three seasons at Robert Morris before transferring to Wake Forest.

He knows a number of Pitt's players well because he played with them in the Greentree Summer League and said that will make this game more fun than most for him.

"Pitt is a very good team, very detailed team in how they prepare," said Williams, who is from Midlothian, Va. "I played against them for three years and I know what they are going to bring to the court. Their attention to detail is what we lack sometimes, and they make you pay for every mistake you make."

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise. First Published March 13, 2014 1:08 AM

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