With the final seconds ticking off the clock and the score tied, freshman point guard Iman Shumpert had the ball in his hands again, and he did not hesitate to take the final shot.
“I knew that [when] I took that shot from the elbow, it was going in,” he said after the game.
Moments after tying the game on a jumper with under 20 seconds remaining, Shumpert drained the game-winner to seal Tech’s exciting 76-74 victory over the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, the No. 6 team in the nation. The win was the Jackets’ first in ACC play after six consecutive losses, and the team’s overall record improved to 10-10.
“It’s great for the guys. You get to 0-6 [in conference play], and you start to doubt yourself. That’s been the biggest thing…. We are doing the right things, and we just have to get rewarded. Today was a great reward,” said Head Coach Paul Hewitt.
“We wanted to come out with a little bit more energy, you know, get the morale going and get everybody’s spirits up… We were screaming, we were yelling in the elevator coming down. We were just really amped up for this game,” said sophomore forward Gani Lawal.
The game featured a rare occurrence: a battle between siblings. Tech senior center Alade Aminu lined up against his little brother, highly touted Wake freshman Al-Farouq Aminu, who was also Lawal’s teammate in high school. Because Alade and Al-Farouq fill similar roles in their respective teams’ lineups—both are agile forwards who are big and strong enough to play the post, and both are the third-leading scorers on their teams—they often found themselves matched up with one another as a result. Alade actually did not start the game, though; for the second game in a row, Hewitt elected to run a three-guard offense with Lawal and junior Zachery Peacock as the starting forwards, but he inserted Alade early and often.
The younger Aminu’s team had the early advantage as Wake jumped out to an early lead, with all five of their starters scoring in the first four minutes. The Deacons were getting a number of open looks on jumpers and three-pointers, and a tree by forward L.D. Williams with 9:31 left in the half gave them a 30-20 lead.
Tech would bounce back quickly, though, with a 10-2 run powered by threes from sophomore guards Maurice Miller and Lance Storrs and a pair of jumpers by senior guard Lewis Clinch. The Jackets continued to keep the game close, and with just under five minutes remaining they had cut Wake’s lead to a single point.
Throughout the first half, Al-Farouq had been winning the battle between the Aminu brothers, notching 11 points and five rebounds and beating Alade on several occasions. However, Alade rebounded in the final minutes; with 2:32 left, he blocked a Smith layup attempt and knocked away Williams’ subsequent layup off the rebound, and a minute later he blocked an Al-Farouq layup try.
Even though Wake managed to reach halftime with a two-point lead, the Deacons were in considerable foul trouble. Three key players ended the half with three fouls apiece—center Chas McFarland and guards Jeff Teague and Ishmael Smith. Teague and Smith received their third fouls on technicals in separate incidents; Teague reacted strongly after he committed his second foul on a shot by Clinch, and Smith got into a scuffle that also resulted in Tech’s Shumpert receiving a technical.
As the second half began, the teams traded a pair of baskets. After Clinch recorded a rare block, he and Miller combined for three open three-point attempts over a twelve-second span, but they missed all three shots. Still, the Jackets remained within four points, and not long after Shumpert hit a three-pointer to bring them within one, a Lawal layup gave Tech its first lead since the game’s early minutes.
The game remained a fierce battle; for the next seven minutes, the teams continued to trade leads, and neither side was up by more than three points. After Tech built up a 65-62 lead, Teague keyed a 7-0 Wake run to give the Deacons a four-point lead with 7:19 left. Tech cut the lead to 69-68 with 5:41 left, and for nearly three minutes nobody scored. Teague broke the drought with a three-pointer, but the Jackets responded immediately as Peacock drew a foul and hit both free throws. After each of the Aminu brothers connected on a layup, the score was 74-72 Wake with 1:48 left.
Another scoring drought ensued as both coaches repeatedly cycled their players in an effort to get their best groups on the floor for both offense and defense. After Clinch missed on a jumper with just over a minute left, Wake would commit one of the game’s most critical mistakes: they lost track of the shot clock and ran out the entire 35 seconds, resulting in a shot clock violation and giving Tech the ball with 34 seconds left.
Hewitt, who had one timeout remaining, chose not to call it and draw up a play. Instead, he let his players decide how to attack, and it paid off, as Shumpert hit the game-tying jumper with 19 seconds remaining.
“We thought that our motion was doing a good job and guys were moving the ball…Zach made a nice decision to play a two-man game with Iman, [who took] the handoff and got in the lane,” Hewitt said.
Following the score, Wake ran off a few seconds and called a timeout with seven seconds remaining. However, Deacon forward James Johnson missed the inbound pass, and it rolled out of bounds. Tech got the ball with the same seven seconds left on the clock.
“I thought the key to that possession was Nick Foreman keeping the ball out of [Teague’s] hands,” Hewitt said of the freshman guard’s defense on the Wake star, who was supposed to receive the pass.
Hewitt and Clinch decided to put the ball in the hands of their freshman point guard once again. “They said, ‘You know what, just…scrap all of it and go 1-4 low. Iman, this is what you want,’” Shumpert said, referring to the play designed to line him up for a shot.
Shumpert took the inbound pass and ran up the court as Teague moved up to guard him. Sensing his height advantage over the defender, Shumpert faked a drive, fooling Teague into taking a step back and allowing an open shot from the free-throw line. Teague made a good attempt to defend the shot despite his mistake, but it was not enough; the shot was right on the mark, and Tech took a 76-74 lead with just 0.4 seconds remaining in the game.
“[Coach Hewitt] had confidence in me, my teammates had confidence in me, and I knocked it down,” Shumpert said.
Wake’s final inbound pass, a length-of-the-court desperation heave to Al-Farouq, was intercepted by Peacock. A few seconds later, fans poured onto the court to celebrate the team’s biggest win of the season.
“No more excuses about why we’ve been losing…why we haven’t executed down the stretch, how we keep messing up. This is a turning point for us,” Shumpert said.
“Not to sound cocky when I say this, but we feel that we can beat any team that we play. Coming into this game, we were confident that we could get the “W” if we didn’t just beat ourselves. But actually following through and getting a win does wonders for us,” Lawal said.
The key for the Jackets was free-throw shooting, which has seen improvement recently, and that was no different tonight, as the team hit 23 of a season-high 30 attempts for a 76.7 percentage. More important was the turnover count: the ACC-worst Jackets only committed 15 in this game, including just six in the second half. The Jackets continued to be strong on the boards, out-rebounding Wake 44-35, and committed just 18 fouls to the Deacons’ 25. The strong performance allowed Tech to pull out the victory despite shooting just 16.7 percent from three-point range.
Lawal led the team with 25 points, including an 11-14 effort on free throws, and his 10 rebounds gave him his thirteenth double-double of the season. Clinch was second on the team with 19 points, 15 of which came in the first half. Shumpert, despite his heroics, only had nine points and four rebounds. Miller had five points and a team-leading five assists.
As for the Aminu brothers, Al-Farouq led the Deacons in scoring with 17 points and added 11 rebounds and five steals. Alade posted a double-double himself, with 10 points and 13 rebounds, and his six blocks were a career-high.
Alade was both hurt and amused by Al-Farouq’s frequent attempts to challenge him early in the game. “He really tried to go at me. As soon as I got the ball in the block, he wanted to…try to block my shot, and I got him to jump. I was like, ‘Oh, he’s a little brother,’ and I just went right by him,” the older Aminu said.
“I tried to shake his hand [after the game], and he looked salty, he looked mad, but I don’t really care. He knows there’s love between both of us…I feel bad he lost, but I don’t feel that bad,” Aminu said.
The brothers will face off once again when Tech goes on the road to face the Demon Deacons on Feb. 18th. The Jackets have three in-conference games before the next game, with the next game coming against Maryland on Sunday at Alexander Memorial.
“We made free throws and kept our turnovers down. When we do that, I think you’ll see some good basketball out of this group…I think we can play with anybody in this league,” Hewitt said.