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Blue Devils' chances slip away in close loss

WINSTON-SALEM - With just over five minutes remaining in Duke's 86-73 loss to Wake Forest, Greg Paulus launched a three that would have pulled the Blue Devils within four. The shot hit the back of the rim and kicked straight up into the air.

A Duke follow-up rolled around the entire back of the rim before the ball was corralled by the Demon Deacons and pushed up the floor to freshman Jeff Teague. The guard, who torched the Blue Devils for 26 points, sank a jumper from the right elbow-and was fouled by Paulus in the process.

Teague made the free throw, Wake Forest went up by 10 and the Demon Deacons never looked back.

It was that kind of night for Duke.

The Blue Devils forced shots, failed to make their open looks and had an abysmal night at the free-throw line, while Wake Forest excelled in virtually every category.

But the area that frustrated Duke the most wasn't the 5-of-13 from the foul line or the season-high 22 turnovers-it was the team's effort.

"I don't think we gave a good effort as a team," senior captain DeMarcus Nelson said. "If we compete at the level we can compete at, then we'll be content with the outcome. But when we don't, then that's unacceptable."

The Blue Devils came out flat from the opening tip. The Demon Deacons, on the other hand, were energized by their raucous crowd and, looking for a marquee win to put them on the NCAA Tournament bubble, jumped out to an early 18-9 lead.

Duke kept the game close, but it squandered several opportunities to distance itself from the home team with bad passes and missed shots. The Blue Devils had 13 turnovers in the first half alone, many of which were a reflection of their lack of energy.

"We didn't do a good job taking care of the ball," Nelson said. "We had a lot of unforced turnovers-just careless with the ball, not being strong with the ball."

Duke's flatness did not just manifest itself in bad passes and turnovers. On the defensive end, the Blue Devils were unable to contain the quicker Demon Deacons. Teague drove into the paint seemingly at will, hitting shots from all angles within the paint. He and Ishmael Smith provided a one-two punch at point guard that Duke could not control.

"Their team is quick," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "The fact that [head coach Dino Gaudio] can play both [guards] gives them two really good ballplayers, and [Teague] can make his own shot because of his quickness."

That speed resulted in plays like the one where Teague put his team up by 10 late in the second half, and it showed itself in Wake Forest doing the little things better than the Blue Devils, such as chasing down loose balls and grabbing rebounds.

Duke managed to stay in the game until the decisive second-half run. In the end, however, the team's lack of energy came back to haunt it as the Demon Deacons coolly kept their lead and gave themselves a much-need resume booster.

"During this time of year, you've got to match or be better [than the opponent]," Krzyzewski said. "People have different agendas-people are trying to get into the Tournament, trying to save the season, they're on a roll. We've won and we've been fortunate. We've got to play like we haven't done anything, and tonight we played like we've already done something."

And that's what bothered the Blue Devils the most about the contest-not that they lost in a building where Wake Forest has been nearly unbeatable, or that they sacrificed their perfect conference record in the process.

Rather, they could not believe how that loss came about-without the trademark effort and energy that has been present for most of the season.

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