WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.—Every time Duke tried to pull away, Wake Forest came right back.
The Demon Deacons (10-10, 3-5 in ACC) never backed off the No. 5 team in the nation until the final seconds ticked off the clock at Joel Coliseum when Duke (18-2, 5-2) pulled away for a 75-70 victory and its first road win of the season.
Both teams struggled to play a clean game, recording a combined 42 fouls and 32 turnovers.
But as ugly as it was at points, Wake Forest had no answer for Mason Plumlee, who finished with a career-high 32 points on 12-of-15 shooting from the field. Plumlee, who scored 19 in the first half, was not the only player to have an easy time getting buckets in the early going. In the first half, the two teams combined to make 54.5 percent of their field goals and went into the break tied at 40.
With defense lacking on both sides, many of the baskets for both teams were uncontested. Plumle was the beneficiary, often having his way in the post and finishing a number of easy slams. The disjointed play led to both teams struggling to find a rhythm and gain any sort of separation as the Demon Deacons held the largest lead of the period at six points.
“Jeff (Bzedelik)’s kids came out with great energy and… they started with a different lineup to get more speed and they really push the ball down on us,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I thought it knocked us back early.”
On the first play of the second half, Seth Curry, who finished with 21 points, easily nailed a jump shot off the dribble, spurring an 8-0 Duke run. Wake Forest remained scoreless until the 16:56 mark of the second half but refused to let the Blue Devils pull away.
At the 14:19 mark, the Wake Forest fans were back on their feet as junior Travis McKie got the Demon Deacons back within two with an emphatic breakaway dunk. From there, the lead swung back and forth with nobody taking control until Seth Curry hit a 3-pointer with 3:10 left to give Duke the lead for good. In the final stretch, fouls and missed shots sealed the Demon Deacon’s fate and Duke never gave up its narrow lead.
“The second half our guys played defense, we got back better, played ball screen defense better, and did enough good things to beat a really good basketball team tonight,” Krzyzewski said. “We earned it but if they would have won they would have earned it. Both teams played winning basketball tonight.”
Even though both teams had no problem putting up points, the loss of Ryan Kelly was felt by the Blue Devils. Kelly, who is out indefinitely with a foot injury, has always been a force against the Demon Deacons with four career 20-point games against them. Freshman Amile Jefferson and junior Josh Hairston could not match that level of production, only putting up two points cumulatively.
Although Rasheed Sulaimon also had a quiet night with just six points after his 25-point performance against Maryland last Saturday, he hit a critical jump shot with 29 seconds left to extend Duke’s lead to five.
Quinn Cook also added 12 points, an improvement from his 0-for-11 performance against the Demon Deacons at home.
But Plumlee’s performance stole the show.
“Before the game coach said ‘give Mason the ball’,” Plumlee said.
Duke’s bigger line-up allowed for the forward to get open looks as the Wake Forest forwards were drawn out of the paint to defend the guards. Plumlee was continually fed inside and had wide-open dunks on numerous occasions, quieting the Demon Deacon faithful.
“The guys got me the ball in good positions, a lot of it was sets, it wasn’t really moves, a lot of it was just layups. I thought we could have played better, but in the end of the day we won,” Plumlee said. “Obviously there is room for improvement, I think we can be smarter in some situations, but overall I mean this is our first real [road] win and this first real win feels so good.”
And after the Blue Devils began conference road play with losses to N.C. State and Miami, the road win was just what they needed.
“We didn’t die today, we are living,” senior Seth Curry said.