WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP)First Virginia couldn’t hit anything. Then the 10th-ranked Cavaliers couldn’t miss on the way to building a big lead.
From there, it was about having enough poise to hang on.
Armaan Franklin scored 18 of 25 points before halftime and Virginia survived blowing nearly all of a 19-point lead to beat Wake Forest 76-67 on Saturday, earning its fifth straight win.
Kihei Clark added 12 points despite foul trouble for the Cavaliers (15-3, 7-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who experienced an afternoon of wild swings.
They missed their first eight shots. Then they hit nine in a row, including seven 3-pointers, before taking a 34-15 lead – only to see the Demon Deacons get within a single point with 8 1/2 minutes left. Yet Virginia had just enough timely baskets and stops to end Wake Forest’s surge up the league standings.
”We trust ourselves,” said forward Ryan Dunn, who had five points, eight rebounds and multiple key plays to help Virginia stay in front. ”We were able to make mistakes and able to play through it. We were just able to calm everything down, relax.”
Damari Monsanto had a career-high 25 points for the Demon Deacons (14-6, 6-3), highlighted by making 7 of 15 3-pointers with a stroke that looked confident and in-rhythm all day. The last two gave Wake Forest its final gasp, with Monsanto following his sixth 3 with another after a turnover to make it 71-67 with 52.5 seconds left.
But Clark hit two free throws, and Wake Forest’s Tyree Appleby capped a rough day by missing a drive. Clark followed with two more to stretch the lead back out to 75-67 and start sending fans to the exits.
The Cavaliers shot 40% but made 15 of 34 3-pointers, with Franklin hitting four during the 30-8 first-half run that pushed Virginia to a huge lead that took an energetic crowd out of it early. The Demon Deacons pulled within 10 by halftime, then kept inching closer and closer until finally getting to within 57-56 on Appleby’s free throws with 8:33 left.
But Virginia never surrendered its slim margin.
Reece Beekman hit two free throws, Franklin threw down a dunk off a feed from Clark then Dunn flew in to dunk home a a missed drive from Franklin to push the lead back out to 63-56.
Meanwhile, Wake Forest missed three shots for the lead while down one, with coach Steve Forbes saying he thought his team got ”a little anxious.” The Demon Deacons shot 39%.
”(Virginia) came in here, they took the hit,” Forbes said, ”and then they won the game.”
Virginia: The Cavaliers haven’t lost since falling to Pittsburgh on Jan. 3, which has kept them near the top of the league standings behind No. 19 Clemson.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons had won four straight games, with Tuesday’s win against Clemson – which was 7-0 in ACC play – marking a third in a row by a double-digit margin. They had also won all 10 home games this year and 15 straight dating to last year. They responded well after digging themselves a huge hole, but they didn’t have enough for their first home win against Virginia since 2013.
Dunn and fellow freshman Isaac McKneely (11 points) joined Ben Vander Plas in hitting key 3-pointers after Wake Forest had pulled to within six or closer. Beekman also had a 3 for a 68-60 lead with 2:40 left while playing alongside Clark with four fouls for the final 7:36.
Dunn also blocked Appleby’s drive at the rim with Virginia up 57-56, while Franklin had a career-best 10 boards.
”It’s not as difficult (staying calm) knowing guys on your team that are poised like that,” Franklin said. ”Even the young guys, Ryan and Isaac, stepped up in a big way and hit some clutch shots to be able to extend our lead and tried to play as sound defensively as possible.”
The win marked the 400th career victory for Virginia’s Tony Bennett, now in his 14th season with Virginia and 17th overall.
Virginia: Hosts Boston College next Saturday.
Wake Forest: At Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap
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