Duke’s defense had been ripped to shreds all season long, but it seemed to be sewn back together Wednesday at Pittsburgh. 

Against the clawless Panthers, who boasted the ACC’s worst offense in terms of statistician Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency metrics, the Blue Devils were able to hold a conference opponent to less than 89 points for the first time in four tries. Their once-porous perimeter defense seemed all patched up, and Pittsburgh couldn’t infiltrate their firm hold on the paint.

Now, Duke hopes it wasn’t a mirage. 

The No. 7 Blue Devils will have their defense tested against an offensive-minded Wake Forest team Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium at noon. Duke will attempt to slow a Demon Deacon offense that has fallen off a notch in ACC play, but still ranks close to Florida State, which nearly dropped triple digits on Duke. 

If the Blue Devils want to shut down a strong Wake Forest offense, they’ll have to keep up the chatter. 

“I could hear a lot of the players, everybody actually on the court, calling out screens, and everybody was talking and connecting,” star forward Marvin Bagley III said Wednesday. “That allowed us to be more alert and to move as one, and I think that really helped us out a lot tonight.”

Duke (14-2, 2-2 in the ACC) will face a Wake Forest team that has been best where the Blue Devils have been most vulnerable to being gashed—from beyond the arc. The Demon Deacons (8-8, 1-3) have shot close to 40 percent from deep, including a near-43 percent mark in their last three games. 

Wake Forest leans heavily on its guards, using a deep rotation to keep players fresh. Duke will have to keep its eyes in particular on Bryant Crawford, Keyshawn Woods and Mitchell Wilbekin, who have earned most of the time in the backcourt and have combined for nearly 40 points per game. 

But the Blue Devils have also been poor in guarding the rim this season—they rank No. 220 in the nation in field goal percentage allowed at the rim, according to Hoop-Math.com. Although the Panthers brought very little interior game to the table Wednesday, in Duke’s previous contest against N.C. State, Bagley and Wendell Carter Jr. got sliced up, allowing 44 points in the paint in an upset loss. 

And the Demon Deacons’ most potent post weapon, 7-foot-1 center Doral Moore, has been unfathomably efficient at finishing at the hoop, converting 90.3 percent of his tries at the rim. 

On a very young team, some believe that the Blue Devils have the quickness to improve in all facets of defense. 

“We could do it. We’ve just got to want to do it,” Duval said Wednesday. “We could be a really good defensive team. We’ve got a lot of athleticism and a lot of guys that can move well laterally, so if we just have that defensive attitude when we go into the game Saturday, then we should play really good defense.”

Although Duke has been ineffective at getting stops, so has Wake Forest—it could be a very high-scoring affair. According to Pomeroy’s metrics, the Demon Deacons rank No. 162 in the nation in defensive efficiency—nearly twice as bad as the Blue Devils, who sit at No. 91. Wake Forest has been particularly horrendous against the 3-pointer—it is among the worst teams in the country. 

That could mark an opportunity for struggling senior captain Grayson Allen to get back on track. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski has attributed his struggles to adapting to a new team with four freshman starters and failing to hunt for his shot. 

Allen certainly was looking to shoot against Pittsburgh, but he went an abysmal 2-of-9. Overall, he is 7-of-32 from deep in conference play and has left the bulk of the offense to Bagley and Duval, who scored in double digits for his fourth straight conference game Wednesday.   

After struggling all season to develop an outside shot, Duval was much sharper Wednesday, nailing 3-of-5 long-distance shots after previously never making more than one in a game. Duval has never been shy from beyond the arc—he has taken an average of nearly five tries per game in conference play, but the results finally came Wednesday. Even with that outing, he owns a 21.3 percent clip on the season from deep. 

"It was really just a confidence thing with me, and everybody from the coaches to everybody on the team was telling me to shoot my shot," Duval said. "Today, I shot my shot and I had a couple go down."

Hank Tucker contributed reporting.