WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Ike Smith stepped to the free throw line for two of the biggest free throws of his career and made it look easy.
Smith, who early in the game went over the 1,000-point career mark, was good and good again with 3.9 seconds to go, giving Georgia Southern an 85-83 road upset of Wake Forest in the season opener for both teams.
The Deacons, coming off their first NCAA Tournament in seven years, lost for just the second time in their last 29 home openers.
“We knew we had to come in here with toughness and face some adversity,” Smith said. “That’s what we did. This was a good win for us. We just want to win games. The atmosphere was great with the crowd yelling at us. This was a good win for us.”
GSU had last beaten an ACC opponent when it topped host Virginia Tech 83-78 in 2013.
Tookie Brown led GSU with 22 points while Smith and Winston-Salem native Mike Hughes added 18 each, Montae Glenn added 14 points with 13 rebounds and Jared Hamilton 10 points.
“We beat a good team, and the fact they’re a good team is important for us,” Eagles coach Mark Byington said. “They turned it into more of a shootout than I expected. Guys were making 3-pointers all over the floor, but luckily we were matching them. . And at every huddle Tookie Brown told them we were going to win this game.”
Keyshawn Woods led Wake with 25 points while Chaundee Brown added 21 and Bryant Crawford 19.
“Georgia Southern made more plays than us and did some really good things,” Wake coach Danny Manning said. “We knew that their guards were tough and very talented. Nothing you saw today surprised us. We have to get better defensively.”
The Deacons led 46-40 at the break behind 18 points from Woods and 12 from Chaundee Brown.
Wake had led by 14 in the opening minutes before the Eagles made a run, cutting the margin to 31-29 on a 3-pointer from Tookie Brown with 5:36 left in the half.
Tookie Brown had 12 points and Smith, who entered the game with 998 career points, 11 in the first half.
The Eagles shot 48.5 percent in the first half to 45.5 for Wake, which was leading the rebound battle 21-12 at halftime.
GSU tied it at 48-48 on a 3-pointer from Hughes at 17:39, and tied it again at 50 on a pair of free throws from Jared Hamilton.
GSU took its first lead of the game at 80-79 on a Hughes 3-pointer with 2:11 to go. The Eagles tied it on a Smith 3-pointer that made it 83-83 with 1:02 remaining.
“I guess we’re not as good as we think we are,” said Wake’s Terrence Thompson, a graduate transfer from Marshall playing his first game for Wake. “But we can’t focus on this one loss. We didn’t overlook them. We just didn’t do what we needed to do to win.”
Georgia Southern: The Eagles may have beaten the most talented team on their schedule on the road in their season opener. Impressive stuff.
Wake Forest: The Deacons may need to develop a “killer instinct.” They won by only two points in their exhibition game against Division II power Queens University of Charlotte.
THEY SAID IT
GSU – Byington: “We won’t play many teams like this. Just their size. Doral Moore (7-1) is huge and causes problems. And they have big guards. We’ll play other good teams, but we won’t have a matchup like that this year. . I appreciate Danny playing us. I wanted to bring senior (Winston-Salem native Coye Simmons, 11 rebounds in 11 minutes) home. When we were putting together our schedule many teams would not return phone calls or would not play us.”
Georgia Southern: Hosts Cal State-Bakersfield on Monday night to start a two-game homestand.
Wake Forest: Hosts Liberty on Tuesday night.