WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — James Johnson was determined to make amends for Wake Forest’s worst loss of the season.
It took just three seconds for him to set the tone.
Johnson caught the opening tip and drove in for a thunderous dunk, the beginning of a dominant 24-point, 11-rebound performance to lead the eighth-ranked Demon Deacons to an 87-69 win over struggling Georgia Tech on Wednesday.
"I dunked it and it kind of let our team to get hyped right away," Johnson said.
It was part of a dominating stretch where Wake Forest raced to leads of 25-5 and 48-25 on Johnson’s 3-pointer late in the first half. After Georgia Tech’s 3-point shooting helped cut the deficit to five early in the second half, Johnson went to work again inside to put it way.
The sophomore hit 10 of 12 shots and was two points shy of his career high, helping Wake Forest (20-4, 7-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) shoot 57 percent from the field and secure it first 20-win season since 2004-05.
But for Johnson, it allowed him to forget his mistake-filled performance in the Demon Deacons’ shocking loss to Georgia Tech less than three weeks ago — the Yellow Jackets’ only ACC win.
"He was really energized," Wake coach Dino Gaudio said. "He did not play well in Atlanta. Down the stretch he missed some buckets and it bothered him. He wanted to play well against these guys. He really stepped up and got us off to a great start."
Jeff Teague added 15 points, while freshman Al-Farouq Aminu scored 14 and got the better of his older brother, Georgia Tech senior Alade Aminu, who was held to nine points.
Lewis Clinch hit six 3-pointers and scored 24 points and Iman Shumpert added 14 for Georgia Tech (10-15, 1-11), which has lost five straight and 10 of 11.
On Jan. 31, Shumpert’s jumper with 1 second left gave Georgia Tech a 76-74 win. It was part of a puzzling trend for Wake Forest, which has beaten good teams (North Carolina, Duke and Clemson) and lost to teams beneath them in the ACC standings (Georgia Tech, Miami and North Carolina State).
Early on, the Demon Deacons were nearly flawless and took advantage of a horrible start by the Yellow Jackets, who were coming off a 21-point loss to N.C. State on Saturday.
Walk-on and defensive specialist Nick Foreman got the start at guard ahead of the struggling Maurice Miller and was assigned to Teague. But it was the Georgia Tech front line and its anemic offense that caused its early hole.
The Yellow Jackets, which had beaten Wake three straight times, missed their first six shots and committed seven turnovers, with many of the mistakes unforced. It included Miller dribbling the ball off his foot in the backcourt, leading to Johnson’s dunk.
"Disappointed in the start because it was something we talked about, that they were going to come out with a burst of energy," Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. "I think they got a 7-0 lead before I called a timeout."
But leads have evaporated quickly in the ACC this season, and Georgia Tech closed the half by hitting four 3s in a 14-2 run to get within 50-39 at halftime.
With Wake Forest suddenly taking bad shots and committing turnovers, The Yellow Jackets closed the gap to 61-56 with 13:28 left when Alade Aminu hit a half-hook over his brother.
But Johnson soon went to work inside. He hit three shots in the paint in a 14-4 run that put it out of reach. Ishmael Smith added 11 points and eight assists, with several of his feeds helping Al-Farouq Aminu earn a season split with is older brother.
It’s the first time brothers have faced each other in the ACC since Wake Forest’s Jerry Montgomery played Roger and Maryland in 1969.
"I think it means a lot to him," Gaudio said of Al-Farouq.
"That’s a close-knit family."
After dispatching league-worst Georgia Tech, Wake Forest can look ahead to Sunday’s game at No. 9 Duke and the chance for a season sweep. That would likely require another big performance from Johnson.
"He’s really grown into a leader for us," Gaudio said. "When I’m in the coaches locker room and they come in from a warmup I always ask the assistants, ‘How are warmups? Are we ready to play?’ And they said James, he’s lathered. And he’s usually the tone-setter for us."