Wake Forest broke its five-game losing streak to Virginia Tech, defeating the Hokies 58-55. Deacons Illustrated met with players and coaches following the game.
Wake Forest head coach Jeff Bzdelik
Opening statement: "Just a great gutty win by a basketball that is beginning to believe in themselves. They did a lot of wonderful things out there to put themselves in position to win this game, and then most importantly they made timely stops and timely shots at the end of the game when the game was in the balance. Obviously we did a great job on the boards. We've all talked enough about that. We finally did it, and it's something that needs to continue to happen for us to be competitive in this league."
Coach, in the second half they tied it three times and took the lead how was your team able to get past that, because normally it just seems like they hang their heads? "That's been the past I think they've done a great job this season in our non-conference games when we've had leads they've disappeared, which is going to happen. This is a very level of basketball, and even in the non-conference you're playing teams that are veteran teams and salty, veteran guys. It's a game of runs all the time, so you have to just pull up your britches, get down, defend and rebound and make sure you get a good quality shot down at the other end. It's the game of basketball. I thought a couple of those games that we had in the pre-season that we were able to weather leads that disappeared, and then we came back and won helped us in this situation to know that we've done it before."
It seemed to me that your two most experienced players Nikita Mescheriakov and C.J. Harris really stepped up today. "Nikita lit up his stat line in every category, and of course with 10 rebounds he did a wonderful job. The zone was really good to us. I know in the first half they were 5-11 against our man, but they 3-16 in terms of their possessions against our 2-3 zone and then we changed zones a little bit. We went to a little 1-2-2 there for a few possessions. We just did a good job at just doing our best to keep them in front of us, shooting with a hand in their face and then really just finding a body to hit and gang up on the boards."
How good did it feel to have C.J. on the floor for this game, especially down the stretch? "His non-conference stats are incredible. I don't have them in front of me. Scott [Wortman] can verify, but I think it was like 54-percent from the floor, 53-percent from the three-point arc, almost three assists, almost 20 points a game, 78, 79-percent from the free-throw line, that's incredible. Today he was 3-4 from the three-point arc."
C.J. has anyone ever told you you're cold-blooded? "No, that's a first right there. I'll take the nickname though."
What can this do for this young team? "Oh, a lot. For a young team like us big wins like this does a lot for us, and we just to keep working and keep doing what [our] coaches say, and then keep it going next week."
Did it boost your confidence to have C.J. back out there? "Yeah, it actually did. He made the game easier honestly. He opened up the court for guys like me, Travis [McKie] and Chase [Fischer] for us to get our shots off, and make plays."
What happened to your knee at the end? Are you okay? "Yeah, I kind of twisted it when I went down into the lane for the jump ball."
Against Wofford they needed you to come through, but you struggled. What changed this week for you, especially with facing stiffer competition in Virginia Tech? "Nothing changed really with me, as far as it goes with my work habits, my daily schedule, my routines. I think that Yale and Wofford I lacked energy, and coming back from Christmas break I felt a little foggy and Wofford some shots didn't fall, didn't get in the flow early. Me and Coach Bzdelik talked about that how I can't let missed shots effect the rest of my game. If I miss a shot who cares, just keep playing the game and that's what I did tonight."
As it got more and more down the stretch and the game just hinged possession did you just feel this is what I came here for? "Yeah, it's kind of crazy when you stop and think about it, but you don't really have time to think about it while you're out on the court. After Travis [McKie] got that last rebound I looked into the crowd and took it all in. This is exactly what I came here for, and this is a great way for us to start our ACC play. It was awesome."
Rebounding man, was that the difference in the Wofford game and then the game today? "Yeah, we definitely learned from our mistakes against Wofford. In practice we did every rebounding drill you could think of. We just wanted to come out here and be the aggressor on the boards, and coach told us if we won the rebounding war we'd win the game."
Tell me about the lift Chase gave you with his shooting and Tony too. "We need everybody on this team. Chase came in and made two or three threes and Tony pushing the tempo, he gets in the lane and creates for others, so it was a great team effort."
Rebounding was stunning to us what were the factors that you saw there? "I thought they did a good job of getting into our bodies, and taking us off the glass. Obviously that was a point of emphasis for their staff. They pursued the basketball better than we did. The last four games they've been absolutely getting crushed on the glass. We've done a great of rebounding the ball the last three or four games. That was extremely disappointing. I didn't think we pursue the ball the way we need to pursue the ball, and I thought they did a good job of getting after it."
Can you talk about C.J. Harris' play down the stretch and the way stepped up for them? "He's a good player, and we tried to recruit C.J. He's got maturity and good leadership. He came off of that flat ball-screen, and we went under it. When we under it he stepped behind it, and made a shot."