There is a beauty to basketball when it’s played well, and what happened in the final seconds Friday night in a college game between Wake Forest and the Charlotte 49ers really was beautiful.
Wake Forest won on a three-pointer from Isaiah Mucius as the buzzer sounded, earning a thrilling 82-79 victory, but it wasn’t as simple as that.
Let me describe it for you in case you weren’t there, and you almost certainly weren’t. There were maybe 1,000 people in the stands at 11 p.m. when Wake Forest restarted the game’s final possession, after first calling a timeout with 21 seconds left. The score was tied, 79-all, and the ball quickly got into guard Alondes Williams’ hands near mid-court.
Charlotte knew Williams planned to shoot; the best ACC player you’ve never heard of for the 2021-22 season already had a game-high 34 points.
Said 49ers head coach Ron Sanchez: “We defended the last possession exactly the way that we talked about… We did not think he would pass it. We thought he would definitely go out and shoot it.”
Wake Forest knew Charlotte was planning for Williams to shoot and planned for him to take the last shot anyway, as Williams had been beastly good all night. On what is usually the Charlotte Hornets’ home court, Williams had thrown down four NBA-worthy tomahawk dunks.
“I always like to do the LeBron dunk,” Williams said later. “So that’s what I was doing, trying to break the rim like it was a Fisher-Price.”
On the last play, though, Charlotte wasn’t going to let Williams get all the way to the rim, no matter what. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound guard, a graduate transfer from Oklahoma, was going to have to do it the hard way.
“We were going to wall up and make him take a contested shot in the lane, over size,” Sanchez said.
Williams held the ball near midcourt until about seven seconds remained. Then he dribbled hard right and then back left, getting into the lane. The 49ers had two defenders on him by then, though, with a third lurking.
But Williams didn’t shoot. Instead, he rifled the ball to the right corner, where Mucius stood, all alone, waving his arms. Mucius had thought it might work out that way.
“He’s an unbelievable passer,” Mucius said of Williams. “And I thought they were probably going to converge.”
They did, and Williams whipped the ball to Mucius, who shot it with about 1.5 seconds to go and saw it go through the net at 0.0.
“I ain’t going to lie,” Williams said. “It was amazing.”
The game started at 9 p.m. on a Friday night, the last of four college games played in the one-day, eight-team Basketball Hall of Fame Shootout at the home of the Charlotte Hornets (who were playing and losing a road game in Portland). N.C. State had lost the 6:30 p.m. game by nine points to Richmond, and when that game was over, a lot of the Wolfpack fans filed straight out of Spectrum Center.
They missed a fine nightcap. Wake Forest (11-1) might end up as an NCAA tournament team this season, if the Demon Deacons can eke out a record a little better than .500 in ACC play. Steve Forbes can coach and he’s got some guys who can play, led by Williams, a graduate transfer from Oklahoma whose last three games have gone like this: triple-double; 36 points; and 34 points and the game-winning assist against Charlotte.
But Charlotte (5-5), which never led, made a furious comeback in the second half. After Wake Forest took a 19-point lead late in the first half, Charlotte started playing better.
By halftime it was 14, and the margin kept shrinking as Charlotte star guard Jahmir Young kept getting to the basket. Young would have a 27-point game while also going over 1,000 points for his career, so it was a big night for him, too.
That night was trumped, though, by Wake’s bigger finish.
Everyone played well on both sides in those final 21 seconds. Charlotte defended well. Williams changed his mind about shooting at the last second. And Mucius made the shot — a walk-off three-pointer, as pretty as they come.