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Demon Deacons present inside-outside threat for Pitt in ACC Tournament

| Wednesday, March 12, 2014, 10:45 p.m.
Wake Forest's Devin Thomas (right) reacts with teammate Coron Williams after making a basket against Notre Dame during the first half of a first-round game in the ACC Tournament on Wednesday, March 12, 2014, in Greensboro, N.C.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Coron Williams watched as Robert Morris' NCAA Tournament dreams were dashed, then kept Wake Forest's postseason hopes alive.

Williams experienced the desperation and one-and-done drama of March Madness with the Colonials.

Now in his first season with the Demon Deacons, the 6-foot-1 guard had his best performance in the ACC Tournament first round.

Williams scored a game-high 25 points, making 7 of 8 shots from the field and 4 of 5 3-pointers, to lead Wake Forest to an 81-69 victory over Notre Dame on Wednesday.

“If you don't come out here and play your hardest, you can be done for the year,” Williams said.

“For me, it's going to be my career, so I want to keep on playing. There's a focus. There's a focus about it for me,” said sophomore forward Devin Thomas, a Harrisburg native whose 17 points and 10 rebounds opened the perimeter for Williams' 3s.

“He's got great strength around the bucket,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said of Thomas, a Central Dauphin graduate. “He's able to drive it from 15, 18 feet. We've had no answers for him twice. You know, we tried a lot of different guys on him, three or four big bodies on him. We came down a couple times and doubled, and they'd kick and hit a 3.”

Thomas had 17 points and nine rebounds in an 80-65 loss to Pitt on Jan. 11, but Wake Forest is 6-1 when he has double-doubles this season.

“When we he gets double-digit rebounds, our record is very, very good,” Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik said. “He was very aggressive going to the rim. He felt very confident. His quickness and explosiveness was to our advantage around the paint area. We utilized that, coupled that with really good perimeter shooting started by Coron here.”

Williams is a 3-point specialist who made 209 in three seasons at Robert Morris. He transferred for his graduate year to Wake Forest, where 3-pointers have accounted for 60.9 percent of his field goals. It proved to be a big blow for the Colonials, who lost to Mount St. Mary's in the NEC championship game Tuesday.

Defending 3-pointers has been a weakness for Pitt, which allowed ACC opponents an average of 6.4 a game. Its past three opponents — Notre Dame (12), N.C. State (seven) and Clemson (nine) — have exploited the perimeter defense. But Pitt held Wake Forest to 25.9 percent shooting (7 of 27) and had a 38-28 rebounding advantage in the first meeting.

The Panthers led by as many as 22 points as Lamar Patterson scored 27 points and Talib Zanna had 16 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots.

“What I remember is getting beat very badly on the boards,” Bzdelik said. “I can't remember specifically the numbers, but they pretty much manhandled us around the rim. Obviously, we're going to have to really do a great job of finding bodies, hitting them first, carving out space. Most definitely, that's the biggest thing that I remember about the game.”

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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