Wake Forest fans have been anxious for the team to mature and the Demon Deacons seemed to come of age in the best possible way.
They defeated No. 19 North Carolina.
Wake Forest defended effectively and benefited from a good stretch early in the second half to upset North Carolina 73-67 in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener Sunday night at Lawrence Joel Coliseum, where students returning early from the holiday break stormed the court to embrace the players.
"They all stood out," coach Jeff Bzdelik said of his team. "I love the balance that we had."
Forward Travis McKie scored 16 points as the Demon Deacons ended a four-game losing streak in the series. Guard Codi Miller-McIntyre added 12 points, and forwards Tyler Cavanaugh and Arnaud William Adala Moto added 11 points apiece for the Demon Deacons (11-3).
Bzdelik, in his fourth season with the Demon Deacons, often has been criticized by the fan base after winning only 11 of 53 ACC games entering this season.
This is the kind of breakthrough victory that the Demon Deacons have coveted. The players were already talking about a celebration that would take place on the campus quad.
"If we can continue to do the things we did tonight, we'll be all right," McKie said. "We know we've got to execute like that."
North Carolina made only 38.7 percent of its shots from the field, 29-for-75, negating a 53-34 rebounding edge.
"We kept hanging around because we were doing a good job rebounding the ball," Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said. "But we weren't finishing enough. We didn't take it back up strong."
Forward James Michael McAdoo scored 13 points, and forwards J.P. Tokoto and Brice Johnson both had 12 points for North Carolina (10-4).
McKie said the Demon Deacons must make the most of this victory in the coming weeks in order to prove it wasn't just a random successful game in conference play.
Wake Forest led 56-44 with eight minutes to play. The Tar Heels then scored six consecutive points, and they appeared to regain possession off a turnover. However, North Carolina guard Leslie McDonald was called for a contact technical foul, and momentum shifted again.
Earlier in the half, the Demon Deacons surged ahead 51-40 on guard Coron Williams' jumper with 11:49 left after Adala Moto's three-point play.
North Carolina guard Marcus Paige struggled throughout the game. He missed his first seven 3-point attempts, and his streak of consecutive made free throws ended at 31. He fouled out with a season-low eight points after making three of 12 shots from the field.
Paige's 3-pointer pulled the Tar Heels within 64-59 with 2:47 to play. Tokoto's putback dunk trimmed the gap to 64-61.
Tokoto missed on North Carolina's next possession before McKie's three-point play gave the Demon Deacons some breathing room in the final minute.
"Our focus coming into the game was to limit our turnovers and we did that," Bzdelik said. "We handled their traps. We did a real good job attacking their pressure. I thought our guards attacked."
Wake Forest overcame 8-of-18 first-half free-throw shooting. The Demon Deacons made six in a row in the last 49 seconds.
North Carolina was only 7-for-11 on foul shots.
"We've got to be more aggressive and attack the basket," Williams said.
Wake Forest won its 11th consecutive home game, its longest such streak in six years.
The Tar Heels won 12 of their previous 16 ACC road outings.
Wake Forest held a 34-32 halftime lead, wiping out North Carolina's early seven-point edge.
Even though the score was tied at 25, the Tar Heels experienced trouble when McAdoo picked up his third foul with 5:56 left in the half. Less than two minutes later, Tokoto had his third foul.