WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — Wake Forest has blown a few big leads this season. The Demon Deacons had much more fun flipping that script against Pitt.
John Collins tipped in a rebound with 18.8 seconds left, and Wake Forest staged its biggest comeback in 18 years, rallying from 19 points down to beat Pitt 63-59 on Wednesday night.
Collins finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds for the Demon Deacons (16-12, 7-9 Atlantic Coast Conference), who let significant leads slip away in losses to Clemson and Florida State but turned the tables on Panthers — in the process matching the biggest comeback in school history — to avoid a loss that certainly would have crushed their NCAA Tournament bubble hopes.
“We’ve been on the losing end of a lot of games similar to this, but there’s not been one ounce of quit in any of these guys,” coach Danny Manning said. “Tonight was a game that we’re able to enjoy because we did it when we didn’t have our best offense and we had multiple guys make contributions. We just scrapped and found a way.”
Michael Young scored 24 points and Jamel Artis added 11 for the Panthers (15-13, 4-11), who had the ball with less than 30 seconds left in a tie game.
Collins stole the ball from Artis on the wing, and after Bryant Crawford brought the ball downcourt and missed a layup, Collins tipped it in for the lead.
Young missed a 3-pointer with about 10 seconds remaining but the rebound went out of bounds off Crawford’s hand with 5.6 seconds to play, giving Pitt a sideline inbounds pass — but Chris Jones’ cross-court pass went into the Panthers’ bench.
Coach Kevin Stallings, asked by reporters afterward about that pass, briefly lowered his forehead to the table before saying it “missed our mark by about 20 feet.”
Freshman Brandon Childress then hit two free throws with 4.8 seconds left to seal it.
“We played well enough, we were in position to win, we should have won, and we didn’t,” Stallings said.
Crawford finished with 10 points for Wake Forest.
Pittsburgh: Forget the 72-46 loss to Miami or the 106-51 humiliation at the hands of then-No. 13 Louisville. No loss will sting the Panthers more than this one. Pitt led 36-17 with 2:51 left in the first half before its collapse after halftime, missing 17 of its last 18 shots over the final 15½ minutes. The Panthers were 4 of 24 from the field after halftime, and shot 30 percent for the game.
“It’s amazing that our defense even gave us a chance to win the game, shooting 30 percent for the game,” Stallings said.
Wake Forest: This was a game the Demon Deacons almost certainly couldn’t afford to lose. Wake Forest entered ranked 31st in Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings and 41st in an unofficial replication of the RPI formula, putting them in bubble territory, but made enough plays down the stretch to avoid what would have been a significant blemish on a tournament resume that lacks a signature victory to mitigate it.
Wake Forest also rallied from 19-point deficits to defeat Florida State in 1999 and Davidson in 1984.
Collins had his 11th straight 20-point game, becoming the first Wake Forest player to do that since Charlie Davis in the early 1970s.
This was Wake Forest’s third-lowest scoring game of the season and its lowest since a 79-62 loss at then-No. 11 Virginia on Jan. 8. The Demon Deacons were held 19 points under their season average.
On the flip side, this was their second-best defensive performance of the season, surpassed only by the 58 points allowed to North Carolina State in that 30-point rout two weeks ago.
“Shots are going to come, they’re going to go,” Manning said. “We can hang our hat on that type of defensive execution.”
NOT SWEET CAROLINE
Pitt visited each of the four ACC schools in North Carolina this season and lost them all by a combined 19 points.
Pittsburgh: The Panthers return home to play host to No. 8 North Carolina on Saturday.
Wake Forest: Has a week to prepare for a visit from No. 7 Louisville next Wednesday night in the Demon Deacons’ last chance in the regular season to claim a marquee victory.
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