GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) -- Wake Forest finally appears capable of
shaking a reputation as a soft defensive team. Sure, the latest
effort came against obviously overmatched Elon, but it was
Justin Gray scored half his 22 points during the opening 5
minutes of the second half, Trent Strickland added 10 points and 12
rebounds and the Demon Deacons (No. 23 ESPN/USA Today, No. 22 AP) allowed only 29 percent
shooting in a 78-59 victory Saturday at the Greensboro Coliseum.
The bruising inside duo of Eric Williams and Kyle Visser
combined for 27 points and 16 rebounds, and Visser added three of
his team's 11 blocks. So far, Wake Forest's opponents are shooting
only 37 percent, down from 44 percent a year ago.
"I think as a team, we relied too much on our talent last
year," Strickland said.
For the first time ever, the Deacons (7-1) officially were the
visitors in this arena, where they played most of their key home
games before the opening of Joel Coliseum near campus in 1989. It
hardly has served as the friendly confines over the years, since
they improved to 61-76 all-time in Greensboro.
The short trip from Winston-Salem also gave them a preview of
sorts for the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, which is back
in this building later in the season.
"That's why we came over here," coach Skip Prosser said. "Our
record in this building hasn't been scintillating."
The Phoenix (1-5) were the hosts, choosing to serve in that role
instead of traveling about 50 miles to Wake Forest for a
"guarantee" game, as they have the previous four seasons. It
didn't keep them from losing for the 22nd straight time in the
Montell Watson tied a career high with four 3-pointers and
finished with 13 points for Elon.
"Their size bothered us a little bit," Watson said. "We kept
taking the ball to them, but they got some blocked shots. We were
exposing the ball and taking bad shots because of their size. We
should've made a little better decisions on the shots we took."
The Deacons led 38-28 at the half before Gray helped them pull
away. He worked inside for a layup, then began a personal 9-0 run
with a 3 off a nice assist by Strickland. At the other end, Jackson
Atoyebi had consecutive shots blocked, leading to perhaps the
prettiest play of the day for Wake Forest.
Michael Drum missed on a drive, and the rebound bounced toward
the perimeter. Williams, all 6-foot-9, 280 pounds of him, chased it
down, and as he was falling, he flipped a pass over his head to
Gray, who was standing patiently behind the arc.
His shot swished through for a 49-31 lead, and he added another
a couple of possessions later to increase the margin to 21.
"I think it was our defense creating our offense," Gray said.
"Maybe it's not going to be me scoring those 11 points, but I
think everybody on the team recognizes that. We just need to keep
working to do that."
Those were his final points, and the 6-11 Kyle Visser provided
the exclamation point to this blowout with his first career
3-pointer. That came with about 2½ minutes left, and he and the
other Wake Forest starters came to the bench soon after.
Of course, after the opening 3 minutes, it appeared they might
get to rest the entire second half. Elon had turnovers on its first
three possessions, and when leading scorer Atoyebi finally got a
look at the basket, two of his shots were swatted away.
The Deacons had no such trouble, running to a 10-0 lead before
the Phoenix recovered. They rallied to tie it at 12, then took
their only lead on a layup by Chris Chalko. Gray made a 3-pointer
to put Wake Forest ahead for good, although the margin at the break
still was only 10.
"You've got to make shots, and we had a lot of good shots that
we missed," Elon coach Ernie Nestor said. "We haven't started off
games well. We've changed some things, and I guess we need to keep
changing things. We're far from being where we want to be. Maybe
we're not playing the best way for our talent."
Atoyebi, who came in averaging 14.2 points, finished 2-of-10
from the field and had five points, the first time he has failed to
reach double figures.