'It just hurts': Frustrated Wake Forest hopes for turnaround

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) Wake Forest keeps finding ways to lose, leaving the Demon Deacons' strong start this season as nothing more than a distant memory.

They've been blown out. They've blown big leads and had their own rallies from big deficits fall short. They've been competitive against good teams but just couldn't finish them off.

It's added up to seven losses in eight Atlantic Coast Conference games this month - and none stings worse than the most recent, a last-second 72-71 loss to No. 11 Virginia on Tuesday night.

''I've given my heart and soul to this school and to this program,'' senior big man Devin Thomas said. ''It just hurts, man.''

After starting 9-3, Wake Forest (10-10, 1-7) has dropped into 14th place in the conference, a half-game ahead of a Boston College team that's winless in the league.

This certainly wasn't where the Demon Deacons thought they'd be when they knocked off No. 13 Indiana and UCLA in the Maui Invitational, or when they beat hyped freshman Ben Simmons and LSU on the Tigers' home floor.

Still, senior guard Codi Miller-McIntyre believes they can turn things around in the face of pessimism.

''I think it's just honestly coming in ... with as much energy as we can - positive energy, anyway, because obviously there's going to be enough negative energy around from media, school, even family,'' Miller-McIntyre said. ''Coming in ... being as positive as possible.''

That may not be easy because this last loss was tough to take.

The Demon Deacons led Virginia by 14 points with 7 1/2 minutes remaining. They led by 10 points with less than 90 seconds to play. They led by seven points with 15 seconds on the clock.

And they lost.

Darius Thompson hit an off-balance heave at the buzzer, sending it over the 6-foot-9 Thomas' outstretched arm that banked off the glass and through the rim.

Coach Danny Manning said afterward, ''I hope they'd don't sleep tonight. I hope it burns. I hope they stay up all night tossing and turning.''

It was a gut-punch that punctuated a slump that has seen all kinds of defeats, from a 28-point home loss to Syracuse to a 2-point loss at improved Virginia Tech. Four of the losses during this slide have come by at least 14 points.

Part of the problem is the schedule - Wake Forest is in the midst of playing four straight ranked opponents, the first time that's happened since 1973. When the Demon Deacons play at No. 25 Notre Dame on Saturday, that will mark the sixth Top 25 opponent this month.

Things should ease up a bit in February and March, with the Fighting Irish and 24th-for-now Duke as the only teams currently ranked on the schedule.

If they can't turn it around quickly, Thomas - the fourth-leading rebounder in school history - and Miller-McIntyre - also a four-year starter - could end their careers never having played in a single NCAA Tournament or NIT game. Wake Forest has not made the postseason since 2010.

Thomas says it will be ''easy for us to get back to that 8-2 start'' because they can extract so many positives from the first 38 minutes of the Virginia loss.

''I don't think you lose a locker room after a loss like this, because a lot of these mistakes ... are self-inflicted,'' Manning said. ''We try to harp and talk about attention to detail throughout our practices, and we have to continue to do that but we also have to get better.''

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Follow Joedy McCreary at http://twitter.com/joedyap. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/joedy-mccreary

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AP college basketball site: http://collegebasketball.ap.org

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