03/19/04 — OPINION -- Wake needed a jolt

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OPINION -- Wake needed a jolt

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on March 19, 2004 1:59 PM

RALEIGH -- Officially, Wake Forest began what many believe can be a long run through the 2004 NCAA Tournament 30 minutes following Manhattan's upset win over Florida.

More than likely, the Demon Deacons will look back at a huge stretch in the second half of their first-round win over Virginia Commonwealth as where it truly all started if they can string together several more wins.

The Rams went up 63-57 at the 7:49 mark on a three-point play by Nick George just before a media timeout.

The second upset of the day wasn't etched in stone quite yet, but it was starting to look increasingly possible. The VCU faithful had that confident look on their faces.

Colonial Athletic Association team's much like the Rams, who are coached by the youngest Division I coach and Duke graduate Jeff Capel, have been the surprise story of the tournament's first weekend before. It looked like it was their turn.

Out of that media timeout, Wake seemed awake and rejuvenated as the Deacons turned the tide of the game and maybe their tournament with that sense of urgency.

First-team all-ACC selection Justin Gray stepped up and nailed a three-pointer. Less than a minute later and after a block by Eric Williams, Taron Downey drilled another three to tie the game at 63-63 off a kick-out pass from Williams.

Jamaal Levy, playing on a banged-up knee, then hit Wake's third three in a row.

In a stretch of about 1:30, Wake turned a six-point deficit into a three-point lead.

"The sense of urgency reappeared. When we hit the back-to-back three's, not only did it help us offensively, it also gave us energy defensively," Wake coach Skip Prosser said. "We are trying very hard not to end this season.

"Those three's gave us tremendous momentum."

Sure, they didn't pull away in a rout the rest of the way. Kudos to the Rams for not allowing that run to completely knock them out of the game. Keyed by leading scorer Domonic Jones, whom Prosser admitted his team never had an answer, VCU took two more one-point leads with less than four minutes left.

Jones, who finished with 22, made some clutch baskets to keep his team close, but Wake always had an answer. Levy had a huge two-handed dunk off a gorgeous pass from Chris Paul up top. Paul drained four-of-four from the line in the final 12 seconds.

There were some crucial plays late, but the Deacs kept coming back to the 9-0 run earlier.

"As soon as the game was over and we got to the locker room I told the guys, 'that was huge for us,'" said Paul, who led Wake with 22 points. "During that timeout, we all said that this could be our final game. We just didn't want it to end."

What's a Jasper?

Actually it's not a what.

It's a who.

According to Manhattan College's athletic website, the nickname comes from the college's most memorable figure, Brother Jasper. Jasper served at the school and was credited for bringing basketball to the college in the late 19th Century.

Now, on to 2004.

The school with an enrollment of 3,400 has fielded a darn good basketball team over the past couple of years -- winning back-to-back Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference titles.

When they tip-off against Wake Forest in the second-round on Saturday, look for some excellent guard match-ups.

Manhattan's Luis Flores, who will graduate as the MAAC's second leading scorer, can get hot at anytime. His pair of backcourt mates, Jason Wingate and Kenny Minor, are small in stature but displayed plenty of heart in their impressive 75-60 win over Florida.

Wake will have to play better on the perimeter than it did against VCU, but ultimately the Deacs size and depth should be too much for the Jaspers.

Don't expect Manhattan to roll over without a fight though. The Gators learned all too well that nothing comes easy against these guys.