WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Louisville Cardinals coach Rick Pitino figured there would be no free passes in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
He saw evidence of that after one game in the school’s new league.
Forward Montrezl Harrell scored 20 of his 25 points in the first half, but fifth-ranked Louisville was given all they could handle in their ACC debut, defeating Wake Forest 85-76 Sunday night at Lawrence Joel Coliseum.
“We didn’t play particularly well, but they made us not play particularly well,” Pitino said.
The good thing for the Cardinals (13-1) is that that they had guard Chris Jones down the stretch. He scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half, including a couple of clutch jumpers — and the go-ahead basket with less than five minutes to play. He tallied 14 points in the last 13 minutes.
“I have to think ‘pass’ and ‘defense’ first and the shots would come,” Jones said.
Pitino said Jones was up to the task, something he would like to see more often.
“Chris Jones was brilliant,” Pitino said. “All Chris Jones has to do to become one of the best point guards in the country is listen.”
The Demon Deacons put so much attention on Harrell after the first half that Jones worked himself into good situations.
“He takes and makes tough shots,” Wake Forest guard Mitchell Wilbekin said of Jones.
Louisville guard Terry Rozier added 18 points before fouling out in the final minute.
Forward Devin Thomas poured in a career-best 31 points for Wake Forest (8-7, 0-2), which had a three-game winning streak snapped.
“Morale victories don’t count,” Thomas said. “We have to learn how to finish games.”
Thomas, a junior, had notched his best offensive output by reaching the 26-point mark with more than 10 minutes to play.
Guards Codi Miller-McIntyre and Wilbekin tacked on 14 points apiece for Wake Forest, which was denied a victory in the first ACC home game under coach Danny Manning.
Wake Forest took a 69-68 lead on forward Dinos Mitoglou’s layup in transition with 5:40 to play after trailing for all except one possession of the second half.
Wake Forest wiped out all of a 13-point, first-half deficit, going ahead 55-54 on Miller-McIntyre’s drive for his ninth point in less than eight minutes to begin the second half.
“We have to continue to put together more sequences like that at both ends of the court,” Manning said. “We have to continue to play at that level and make some better decisions.”
Despite the shaky parts of the second half, Pitino took the result in stride.
“Every win is going to count,” he said. “… It’s a mega-conference.”
Harrell’s solid first half in a return to his home state set a positive tone for the Cardinals.
“It was good for my family to get here and watch me play,” he said.
Rozier picked up his third foul on an offensive charge just 14 seconds into the second half. He had his fourth foul with 8:42 left after hitting a couple of shots to keep the Cardinals in the lead.
Wake Forest scored the first 10 points of the second half to close within 46-45 when Pitino called for his second timeout of the half with 17:20 remaining. The Cardinals used another timeout at the 13:20 mark.
Louisville held a 46-35 halftime lead, buoyed by 20 points from forward Montrelz Harrell, who connected on 7 of 10 shots from the field by halftime.
Louisville racked up 15 points in less than a four-minute span for a 21-14 lead. The Cardinals had five 3-pointers in the first nine minutes, forcing six Wake Forest turnovers during that span.
Wake Forest steadied itself by limiting turnovers in the last four minutes after a rough spell of ball-handling.
The Demon Deacons were hindered by 1-for-9 shooting on free throws in the first half. They were aided by the Cardinals’ 5-for-12 first-half effort on free throws.
Louisville was shooting 29.2 percent on 3-pointers entering the game, but the Cardinals hit five of their first six before missing their next five long-range attempts.
NOTES: Louisville and Wake Forest last met with Wake
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