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January 3, 2010To a certain extent, with Wake Forest facing Xavier to honor Skip Prosser, it was hard for there to be a true loser. Nonetheless, on a night that began with a fitting tribute to the former head coach of both teams, Wake Forest made sure they ended it with a "W" on the court, going to double overtime before defeating the Musketeers 96-92 in front of a noisy home crowd.
"Skip would have been proud, not of who won, but of the effort both teams put forth," said coach Dino Gaudio after the game. "It was a terrific, terrific win for us over an NCAA Tournament team."
The undisputed MVP of the game was senior point guard Ishmael Smith, one of four seniors who actually played under Prosser. Smith played 49 out of 50 minutes and tallied 28 points, 9 assists, and 3 blocks. Not only were his stat totals impressive, but his leadership and ability to hit the clutch shot were crucial to the Wake Forest victory.
"I don't think he's ever played a better game," said Gaudio after the game. Smith qualified the statement, saying it was "by far the best game I've played at Wake," but maybe not in his whole life.
Smith made the first basket of the game, a contested three pointer as the shot clock expired on the Demon Deacons' first possession. Wake's offense was clicking early and they played reasonably well on the defensive end on the way to a 19-14 lead nine minutes into the half.
Xavier eventually found their stride, however, led by impressive outside shooting from Jordan Crawford. The Musketeers dominated Wake Forest on the glass in the first half 26-16, and despite shooting 52 percent from the field, Wake trailed 43-41 at the half.
Wake grabbed control of the game once again to start the second half. With a flurry of dunks and consecutive defensive stops Wake pulled ahead to an eight point point lead, exciting the crowd and forcing a Xavier timeout with 14:15 left on the clock.
Much like the first half the Musketeers responded, and a three pointer coming out of the timeout cut Wake's lead to five points. Xavier continued to chip away and with seven minutes left to play in regulation the game was tied. Xavier twice pulled ahead to a four point advantage down the stretch, but each time Wake responded, first with an Al-Farouq Aminu jumper and again with a Smith three pointer that cut the Xavier lead to one.
On the Musketeers next possession senior L.D. Williams stole the ball at midcourt, took it back for a layup and a foul, and completed the three point play to give the Demon Deacons a two point lead. After a miss and an offensive rebound, Xavier's Terrell Holloway made a basket to tie the game at 78 with 58 seconds on the clock. Each team had one more possession but each failed to capitalize, sending the game to overtime.
Smith scored two more baskets in the first overtime, but each time Xavier responded with a game tying basket of their own. With 35 seconds left Aminu fouled Jamel Mclean, but Mclean only made one free throw for a three point lead. When Wake came back down the floor they didn't look any farther than Ish Smith, who hit another clutch three pointer to tie the game at 85. Xavier couldn't score on their final possession, sending the game to a second overtime.
Xavier scored the first points of the second overtime period, but after that it was almost all Wake Forest. Smith, Aminu, Chas McFarland, and C.J. Harris combined for 11 points and Xavier couldn't hit the shots to stay in the game. Harris' two free throws with two seconds on the clock put the game away.
It was Wake's second overtime victory in as many games, but what really made the game special was the man being honored. Every coach and player said the game was played with lots of emotion and heavy hearts.
Xavier coach Chris Mack said it best after the game. "I wish the game wouldn't have to be played."
For Gaudio, "this game was lose-lose. I've never been part of a game like this where after the game you feel so saddened that two of the guys you care about and love on the other side are going home with a loss."
In the end it was a great opportunity to honor a great coach who meant a lot to both institutions. The first Skip Prosser Classic certainly lived up to its billing, and with at least nine more years to come, it can be certain that this will become an emotional, exciting rivalry.