The key word following UNC’s fourth loss of the season was discipline when the conversation turned to defense. Wake Forest shot 48.1 percent on 26-of-54 shooting, including a 57.1 percent effort inside the 3-point line.
The primary culprit was the Demon Deacons’ success with their ball screens. In the final stat book, Wake Forest had 20 of its 26 made field goals classified as lay-ups.
The Demon Deacons outscored the Tar Heels in the paint, 46-44, despite being outrebounded 24-8 on the offensive glass. Wake Forest also held an 11-8 advantage in fast break points.
“We worked really hard on our spacing and screening,” WFU head coach Jeff Bzdelik told reporters following the game. “We worked really hard, I thought we handled Carolina's traps really well. We knew they would and we worked on that a lot. We put in a couple of sets and we got some backdoors off their pressure. We executed well; we screened better. We read screens better."
Both Marcus Paige and Leslie McDonald emphasized being more disciplined defensively in preventing penetration from the perimeter.
“We know what kind of team we are defensively and we should have worked on those a little bit better, especially with the screen on the ball,” McDonald said. “We know exactly what to do and we just didn’t do it.”
Considering the hours involved on that aspect of defense, there should be minimal, if any, letdowns, according to Paige.
“These are things we work on every single day in practice,” the sophomore guard said. “We probably practice screen-on-ball defense more than anybody. There’s no way people work on that more than we do. And in the games we just have lapses and we’re just not as disciplined. So we need to figure out a way to translate what we do in practice to the games.”
The discipline the Tar Heels are referring to manifests itself in a variety of ways, from changing a player’s path off a ball screen to getting into a proper stance in late-clock situations and preventing being driven to the basket.
UNC head coach Roy Williams suggested that a greater focus needed to be placed on learning the scouting reports the coaching staff prepares before each game.
“Right now we’ve got to do a better job guarding the basketball, whether it’s play zone or do more traps or all of the above,” Williams said. “We definitely have to do a better job guarding the basketball. If we say a guy’s a left-handed driver and another guy is a driver, you have to understand that and make that kind of adjustment when you’re guard somebody, but we didn’t do a very good job of that.”
Wake Forest broke open a 38-38 tie with a 15-2 run aided in part by a number of backdoor screens that resulted in lay-ups. While McDonald acknowledged that the strategy caught UNC off-guard a little bit, he said his teammates knew that opponents are apt to try the backdoor approach due to their man pressure.
“We understood to get a hand in the passing lane so we can get deflections but also to watch out for the backdoors,” McDonald said. “We started seeing that after a while – they started going backdoor on us. So it’s being able to go with them, and if they do go backdoor, make sure the help side man is there.”
The Demon Deacons’ penetration on Sunday wasn’t an anomaly by any means. After all, they have attempted the second-most free throws in the ACC this season.
Wake Forest’s 33 free throw attempts were the most since taking 37 against Jacksonville on Nov. 18. The Demon Deacons did miss 14 free throw attempts, which helped offset the overall effectiveness of their aggressiveness in getting to the rim.