WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) - No. 16 Louisville twice flirted with handing Wake Forest a lopsided loss only to squander leads. The good news for coach Chris Mack was the way the Cardinals responded each time.
Carlik Jones scored a season-high 23 points to help the Cardinals beat the Demon Deacons 77-65 on Wednesday night, extending their best start in Atlantic Coast Conference play.
Samuell Williamson added 15 points and 11 rebounds for the Cardinals (9-1, 4-0 ACC), who first let a 14-point lead slide all the way to four in the first half. Then, after pushing ahead by 16 after halftime, Louisville watched Wake Forest climb to within a point.
“I think it’s very evident at times that we have a very young team that will give up a couple of easy ones and allow somebody to get back in the game,” Mack said.
The Cardinals had issues with foul trouble - most notably with David Johnson picking up his fourth foul with more than 12 minutes left - as well as multiple players dealing with cramping . Yet Louisville never surrendered the lead before finally putting this one away in the final 6 minutes.
Jones said the message among the players in the huddle was “to just stick together and fight it out and dig it out, and I believe that’s what we did tonight.”
Louisville shot 51% to reach 4-0 in the league, marking the program’s best since joining the ACC before the 2014-15 season. It marked the best start in any league since for the Cardinals since winning their first eight Big East games during the 2008-09 season.
Daivien Williamson scored 19 points for the Demon Deacons (3-4, 0-4), who fell behind 50-34 lead just 90 seconds after halftime after giving up consecutive baskets off turnovers. They clawed back to within a point midway through the second half, only to go 9 1/2 minutes without a basket to squander a shot at an upset.
Wake Forest shot just 9 of 29 (31%) after halftime, including 2 of 14 from behind the 3-point arc.
“I’m going to have to go back and look, but I’m pretty sure we got a lot of wide-open looks,” first-year Wake Forest coach Steve Forbes said. “And we’ve got to make those.”
Louisville: The Cardinals ran off a 16-0 run to lead by double figures in the first half, including a run of eight straight made shots and 10 straight scoring possessions. That hot shooting didn’t hold up, but Louisville did enough to earn a third league road win so far this year.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons showed plenty of fight to claw back in it after halftime. Ultimately, they couldn’t come up with a desperately needed basket or two during that long drought during a close game before Louisville finally started to stretch the lead back out again.
“All in all, our kids competed hard against a nationally ranked team,” Forbes said. “But at the end, we still have a loss. And so we got to learn from it.”
Williamson, a 6-foot-7 sophomore, had a big performance after a one-point effort in last week’s win against No. 20 Virginia Tech. Williamson credited a conversation with Mack to help his mindset.
“Just kind of playing with some more pop, running the floor was one of the main things we talked about,” Williamson said, adding: “He just told me he wants me to get out and run.”
Louisville’s Charles Minlend made his first appearance this year, playing one scoreless minute. He had been recovering from a sprained knee ligament suffered in practice Nov. 5. … Johnson had five points but a career-high nine assists for Louisville. … Wake Forest didn’t have midyear-enrollee guard Carter Whitt, who was wearing a boot on his right leg after rolling his ankle during the day’s shootaround. … The Demon Deacons made 16 of 18 free throws and scored 20 points off turnovers.
Louisville: The Cardinals play a second straight road game when they visit Miami on Saturday.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons have another matchup with a ranked team, hosting No. 20 Virginia Tech on Sunday.
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