WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.—If anyone thought that all of Duke’s ACC games would come as easily as its opener against Boston College, Wednesday's grinder against the Demon Deacons put that notion to rest quickly.
No. 14 Duke survived heavy foul trouble to hold off Wake Forest 91-75 Tuesday at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum, securing its second conference win and fending off an impressive interior performance by the Demon Deacons. A dunk-heavy second-half outing by center Marshall Plumlee—who put up a career-high 18 points—helped the Blue Devils close out the game, as did a game-high 24 points from Grayson Allen.
Duke was forced to play extended periods of the second half without its two most consistent performers due to foul trouble. Allen had 19 points when he picked up his fourth foul with 16:04 remaining in the game and was forced to join Matt Jones—who also already accrued four fouls—on the Blue Devil bench. Allen returned to the game with 8:16 left and finished the game with seven second-half points.
"We really had to come together—that was kind of the theme for this game. We had to win together. No one person was going to do it,” Plumlee said. “I couldn’t be more proud of my teammates and the way they handled the adversity with the foul trouble. I think our coaching staff did a great job managing the foul trouble as well, and it resulted in a memorable win.”
Luckily for Duke (13-2, 2-0 in the ACC), Wake Forest forward Devin Thomas—who posted 21 points and 12 rebounds—also sat for a critical stretch with four fouls, in part because he picked up a technical foul early in the second half for complaining after committing a personal foul on a driving Luke Kennard. Thomas picked up his fourth foul with 8:00 remaining and was subbed out at the next dead ball.
Starting forward Dinos Mitoglou was also forced to sit after picking up his fourth with 4:53 left, one of 39 combined fouls for the two teams Wednesday.
“In the second half, we were better [defending Thomas],” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He got in foul trouble and in their games that I’ve watched, when he gets in foul trouble, they’re a little bit of a different team because he’s so good.”
With Thomas out, the Blue Devils fed Plumlee, who did what he does best—dunk—and even came through at the charity stripe, converting 4-of-4 free throws. After scoring just four points in the opening period, the gradaute student contributed 14 second-half points, with 10 coming off a myriad of two-handed slams and under-the-basket layups. By the time Thomas came back into the game with 2:27 remaining, Duke had extended its lead to 87-75 and was able to ice the game with free throws.
When Plumlee came out of the game, he was embraced by an ecstatic bench and even received a special message from Krzyzewski, a West Point graduate who share a bond with Plumlee, who completed a contracting ceremony last January as part of Duke's Army ROTC program.
“He said he believes in me and then some military jargon that he knows always gets through to me a little extra,” Plumlee said. “It’s kind of rare to have someone who has a foot in both basketball and the army, but Coach does and that’s just another way that he can get through to me.”
The game also served as one of Kennard’s best thus far, as the rookie poured in 23 points—15 coming in the second half—and added five rebounds, three assists and a steal in 32 minutes.
Kennard and Plumlee combined to score 19 of Duke's final 24 points—Allen added the other five.
Playing without senior forward Amile Jefferson, Duke had held its own in the paint entering Wednesday, having only been outrebounded once this season—a Dec. 19 loss to Utah. But Wake Forest, led by Thomas, dominated the glass from start to finish to keep things interesting.
The Demon Deacons (9-5, 0-2) secured 20 rebounds to Duke’s nine in the first half and outscored the Blue Devils 10-0 in second-chance points. Thomas entered the game as the conference’s active leader in career double-doubles with 28, and was fresh off a 14-point, 10-rebound effort in a loss at Louisville—he nearly outdid that performance in the opening 20 minutes.
At the break, Thomas had secured eight rebounds to go along with his game-leading 17 points, helping Wake Forest head to the locker room trailing just 50-47 despite a blistering 60-percent shooting performance from the field by the Blue Devils. With Plumlee in foul trouble with two personals and his team in trouble down low, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski inserted redshirt sophomore Sean Obi in the first half for the first time this season. But the Rice transfer could not quell the Blue Devils’ rebounding woes, as Thomas and his teammates continued to snatch up and put back shots for the remainder of the half.
“I’d like to have [Thomas],” Krzyzewski said. “He’s just such a tough matchup—such a tough matchup—and we couldn’t match up with him in the first half.”
Duke will take the court again Saturday in its ACC home-opener against Virginia Tech.
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