You can’t explain the unexplainable.
Bad things usually happen, in both football and basketball, when N.C. State goes to Winston-Salem.
For whatever reason, they just do and they did again on Tuesday.
Wake Forest, the same team that lost at home to Houston Baptist and Gardner-Webb earlier in the season, knocked off the 17th-ranked Wolfpack 71-67 at Joel Coliseum.
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The Demon Deacons (8-8, 1-3 ACC) played their best game of the season with 16 points and 10 rebounds from freshman Jaylen Hoard and some late clutch points from unheralded transfer guard Torry Johnson.
“I thought they played inspired,” N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts said. “I thought they played like a team that obviously wanted to win a game.”
N.C. State (14-3, 2-2 ACC) has lost six of the past seven trips to Joel Coliseum and 11 of 15. If you want to go back to the 1990-91 season, the Wolfpack has lost 23 of 29 games here.
Wake has certainly had some very good teams over that stretch but recently it has been down teams that find a way to play their best when the Wolfpack shows up.
It’s the same in football. The Deacs cost N.C. State bigger, more memorable seasons with upset wins the past two years on the gridiron.
Senior Torin Dorn, who led the Wolfpack with 18 points, took a swing at explaining N.C. State’s perpetual problems in this tobacco town.
“It’s a tough place to play,” Dorn said. “Wake looks at us as a rival, so they play extremely hard when they play us.”
That’s true. Wake, which had lost each of its first three ACC games by double-digits and was a 10-point underdog in this game, was inspired.
A slog of a first half by N.C. State, with poor ball movement and lifeless defense, was a bigger problem. The Deacs found confidence in N.C. State’s incompetence.
Wake led 42-27 at the half and 51-29 less than 3 minutes into the second half.
“We didn’t play our game (in the first half),” said junior wing C.J. Bryce, who finished with 17 points. “We didn’t play well on defense. A lot of shots weren’t falling for us but we still let them score on the other end.”
The absence of point guard Markell Johnson, who missed the game with a hip injury, didn’t help N.C. State either but it’s always something in this building.
Whether it’s Cornelius Hudson or Arnaud Adala Moto, a random role player usually steps up for the Deacs at the right time in these home wins over the Wolfpack. It was Johnson’s turn on Tuesday.
A grad transfer from Northern Arizona, the 6-3, 170-pound guard scored four points in the final 80 seconds after N.C. State had made it 67-66.
Johnson was 0 for 11 in the previous two ACC games (losses to Miami and Duke) and had a total of eight points in three ACC games. He finished 3 of 3 from the floor and 4 of 4 from the foul line for 11 points.
Johnson’s jumper with 1:18 left gave Wake a 69-66 lead. C.J. Bryce made one of two free throws on State’s next possession. With 13.3 seconds left, Johnson made a pair of free throws to seal the win.
“I thought he did a good job,” Keatts said. “I thought he made plays down the stretch.”
The Deacs entered the game last in the ACC in adjusted defensive efficiency. A zone was their salvation on Tuesday with State’s offense settling for quick 3-pointers.
The Wolfpack started just 1 of 14 from the 3-point line and finished 6 of 29.
The Wolfpack held Wake without a point for more than 6 minutes and was able to tie the game at 58 with 7:46 left but Wake never gave up the lead.
If State had started the game like it finished, the outcome would have been different. But that’s not how it works for N.C. State in Winston-Salem.