GREENSBORO, N.C. — Postseason basketball brings out the best in Wake Forest’s Coron Williams.
He scored a season-high 25 points and the Demon Deacons beat Notre Dame 81-69 on Wednesday in the first round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
Williams — a transfer from Robert Morris who holds the Northeast Conference tournament record with eight 3s in a game — hit four in this one for 12th-seeded Wake Forest (17-15).
“Desperation. One and done,” Williams said. “If you don’t come out here and play your hardest, you could be done for the year. ... There’s a focus about it for me.”
The Demon Deacons shot a season-best 61 percent, built a 33-23 rebounding advantage and earned their first ACC tournament win since 2007 — when the late Skip Prosser was their coach.
“We just wanted to break the streak, not only for this team but for Wake Forest,” said Travis McKie, the team’s only fourth-year senior on scholarship. “We haven’t done it in a long time, and we want to continue rolling.”
Devin Thomas added 19 points and 10 rebounds for Wake Forest, which will play fifth-seeded Pittsburgh (23-8) on Thursday in the second round.
Pat Connaughton scored 19 points for the 13th-seeded Fighting Irish (15-17), whose first trip to the ACC tournament was a short one.
The league newcomers shot 40 percent and had won at least one game in their previous five Big East tournaments.
“In a tournament setting, and for us, given that this is our first experience down here in this thing, we need to get off to a better start to believe that we can win a game here,” coach Mike Brey said.
Zach Auguste added 14 points, Eric Atkins had 13 and Garrick Sherman finished with 12 for the Irish, who briefly made things tense in the final moments when Atkins spun in a 3-pointer to make it 68-62 with 2:10 left.
Wake Forest guard Codi Miller-McIntyre then missed the front end of a one-and-one with 1:55 to play, but teammate Arnaud William Adala Moto grabbed the offensive rebound — one of two missed free throws he rebounded in the final 2 minutes — and Williams then hit two free throws with 1:52 to go.
Senior Travis McKie and Adala Moto each hit two foul shots, the last of which pushed the lead back to double figures at 74-64 with 1:22 remaining.
Notre Dame didn’t get closer than eight the rest of the way.
“The answer has been really what’s plagued us most of the year — we just haven’t been able to get stops,” Brey said. “They made timely baskets.”
Thomas had given Wake Forest its largest lead at 62-48, hitting a fast-break layup through contact from Steve Vasturia — and flexing both biceps to the crowd in celebration — before converting the free throw that followed with 6:37 left.
“Having a lot of confidence is big because 50 percent of this game is from the neck up,” Thomas said. “I just felt confident.”
Adala Moto finished with 12 points for Wake Forest, which claimed its first ACC tournament victory since a 114-112 double-overtime win over Georgia Tech in the first round of the 2007 event — in what turned out to be Prosser’s final victory.
The Demon Deacons went one-and-done in each of the past six years but used a big first-half run in just their third victory over an ACC team away from Winston-Salem in four years under coach Jeff Bzdelik.
Winning in the postseason might be an unfamiliar concept for Wake Forest, but certainly not for Williams — a graduate transfer who played for the Robert Morris team that knocked off Kentucky in the NIT last March.
Williams scored 12 points in the first half and hit three 3-pointers from the same spot in the right corner. The last of them came midway through a 14-3 run and stretched Wake Forest’s lead to 33-20.