WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.-- Wake Forest's victory over Xavier on Wednesday night wasn't a work of art by any means, but the Demon Deacons and their beleaguered coach will take it.
Jeff Bzdelik needed this. He needed it badly.
Prior to this victory, one can argue the Deacons' best performance in the coaches' two-plus seasons was a six-point loss to Connecticut in November. That's not a good sign if job security is the topic of conversation.
The reality is, there's nothing this Wake team will or won't do for the remainder of the season without Bzdelik's future serving as a primary topic. But on this night, some of the uneasiness among the frustrated fan base was slightly quelled, courtesy of a 66-59 triumph.
"You need to see results, and we saw results tonight," Bzdelik said.
The Demon Deacons (7-5) played well in stretches, but it can't be dismissed that this may be the worst team Xavier has put on the floor in some time. The Musketeers (7-6) entered the contest on a three-game skid, including a home loss to Wofford. They also have a loss to Pacific on their resume.
As for this performance, Xavier made just one 3-pointer and turned over the ball 20 times with just six assists. But credit the Deacons with some of that. Wake also posted some ugly numbers 10 assists with 17 turnovers and ran an offense that lacked imagination. The Deacs rarely boxed out, a reason they were outrebounded 36-32, and they blew an 11-point, second-half lead, only to build it back up again.
But with Wake improving to 28-47 under Bzdelik, this was a significant victory and is something the very young Demon Deacons can build on.
Illuminating the program's struggles under Bzdelik, a former head coach at Colorado, Air Force and with the Denver Nuggets, is that this annual date with Xavier is in honor of the late Skip Prosser, who successfully coached both programs.
Prosser led Xavier to four NCAA Tournaments and Wake to four, including a Sweet 16 run, two 13-3 ACC finishes and a No. 1 ranking in the 2004-05 season when Chris Paul was starring for Tie Dye Nation.
Prosser, however, died of an apparent heart attack on July 26, 2007, and was replaced by longtime assistant and best friend, Dino Gaudio. Wake athletics director Ron Wellman fired Gaudio after three seasons despite two NCAA trips and a No. 1 ranking during the 2008-09 campaign.
Wellman brought in Bzdelik, with whom he had a prior relationship, and apathy at Wake is at an all-time high. A program that used to fill up 14,665-seat Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum for nonconference games suddenly can't sell out for Duke or North Carolina.
An announced crowd of 9,862 was on hand Wednesday to see what might be Bzdelik's best win at Wake. The Demon Deacons are 5-27 in ACC play under his guidance, and with the conference opener Saturday at Duke, the reality of where this program is could wipe away whatever good will came with beating the Musketeers.
Yet, while confidence from boosters is low, Bzdelik sees only positives.
"We're at a really good place right now, we really are," Bzdelik said. "We're one of the youngest teams in the country, bar none. We're getting better. We have young men who are doing a terrific job both on and off the court in the traditional Wake Forest way. There's a great, great foundation here.
"Along the way we've made some tough decisions to build the foundation back the right way, and it is, it's rock solid. They're growing up every day."
In his defense, Bzdelik had to purge the program of some troubled players and a few others voluntarily left. That's one reason there are seven freshmen and three sophomores on the roster. But had the program put forth at least a few examples that it might eventually work, more fans would be behind the coach.
But he hasn't beaten a team from a BCS conference that finished with a winning record and this game wasn't even on television in the era of 700 channels. That says a mouthful about how far off the map Wake has fallen in a very short period of time.
Bzdelik deserves the rest of this season for the program to show progress, and on this night his team took a step forward. The key is for the Deacons to do it several more times to maintain Wellman's faith, too.