Wake Forest scored 17 unanswered points down the stretch to upset the No. 4 Blue Devils 82-72 Wednesday night at Lawrence-Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The Demon Deacons entered play having won just one of their last nine games.
"I thought we kind of had them on their backs, on their heels," junior point guard Quinn Cook said. "And then we let up."
Playing their first game in eight days, Duke (23-7, 12-5 in the ACC) struggled to find its rhythm in the first half. The Blue Devils missed seven of their first eight shots and shot just 2-of-12 from behind the arc in the opening stanza.
Despite tallying 19 points and 10 rebounds for his fifth consecutive double-double, Jabari Parker was on the bench in foul trouble when Wake Forest started its spurt. The freshman did not use the long layover as an excuse and shouldered responsibility for the team’s faltering down the stretch.
"Even if we did [come out flat], we had a five-point lead coming within seven minutes," Parker said. "I can't say that I'm a freshman no more. If I want to play big minutes, if I want to [be out there] on the floor with my team, I've got to be responsible."
The Demon Deacons (16-14, 6-11) won the battle in the backcourt. Sophomore guard Codi Miller-McIntyre, who missed the first meeting between the teams Feb. 4 due to injury, finished with 13 points and eight assists. His presence helped Wake Forest neutralize Duke's pressure-oriented perimeter defense—the Demon Deacons committed just 10 turnovers after giving the ball away 19 times without Miller-McIntyre at Cameron Indoor Stadium. At the other end, Quinn Cook, Tyler Thornton and Rasheed Sulaimon combined for 10 of Duke's 15 turnovers.
Despite a slow start, the Blue Devils stayed close. Trailing 29-23 with 5:49 left in the first half, Duke erupted on a 10-0 run to take its first lead of the game. Rodney Hood scored 11 of his 16 points in the first half, five of them coming in that stretch.
Duke charged out of the locker room and seemed about to reverse its shooting fortunes, scoring on its first three possessions of the second half. Eight quick points from Sulaimon gave the Blue Devils a five-point edge, but the hot shooting would not continue. Duke made three of its first five 3-point attempts after halftime but finished the game shooting 6-for-27 from long range on the evening.
"I thought at times we settled for perimeter jump shots. We weren't able to get the penetration that we would've liked to get, and we didn't get to the foul line," Duke associate head coach Steve Wojciechowski said. "We can't just be a team that relies on perimeter jump shots."
As was the case in road losses to Notre Dame, Clemson and North Carolina, cold second-half shooting coupled with a break in intensity spelled disaster for Duke.
With 9:28 remaining, Duke turned the ball over at halfcourt and Hood fouled Wake Forest senior Travis McKie to prevent a lay-up. The foul was Hood's fourth, and his departure to the bench started the unraveling for the Blue Devils. Marshall Plumlee was called for his fourth personal foul soon afterwards, putting the Demon Deacons in the bonus. Wake Forest got to the line 34 times on the night, making 25. Duke was just 12-of-18.
Knowing that Duke's forwards were saddled with foul trouble, Wake Forest pounded the ball inside. The strategy paid off as Cavanaugh and Arnaud William Adala Moto combined to score 32 points. Cavanaugh was the catalyst during the game-deciding run, pouring in 10 of his game-high 20 points in the final 5:44.
Hood re-entered when Parker was called for his fourth foul at the 5:09 mark. Ahead 66-61 at the time, Duke was outscored 6-0 without the freshman on the floor, putting Wake Forest ahead 67-66. Parker's return could not stop the bleeding, as Miller-McIntyre and Cavanaugh added lay-ups to put Wake Forest up five with less than two minutes to play. Needing a basket to stay within striking distance, Duke repeatedly came up empty, misfiring on five 3-point attempts during the 17-0 run and committing four turnovers.
“I think our guys got rattled. [Wake Forest] was scoring easily,” Wojciechowski said. “I didn’t think we had the poise and the leadership on the floor to where, when we had a breaking-point type of moment... [we could] capitalize on it.”Free throws sealed the game for the Demon Deacons, leaving Duke with another sour taste in its mouth after giving up another second-half lead on the road.
"I don't think that we defended or rebounded at the level that you need to to win in March," Wojciechowski said. "It's a hard lesson to learn, but we'll have a chance to regroup and play again."