WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.—With Duke's season on the line in the last four minutes, Luke Kennard completed an individual performance for the ages to bring the energy the team has been seeking for the last month.
Kennard curled off a screen on the wing and hit a game-winning triple with 6.6 seconds left to lift the No. 17 Blue Devils to a 85-83 victory and silence a sellout crowd at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum for its first road win of the year. The sophomore guard scored 30 second-half points, shooting 10-of-10 from the field and 5-of-5 from beyond the arc after the break.
“Luke’s a competitor. He wants to win, and when you want to win badly enough and you’re desperate enough, then you do things that are spectacular,” senior Matt Jones said. “Luke was spectacular and guys just followed his lead.”
Things looked grim for Duke (16-5, 4-4 in the ACC) with 4:01 remaining, when Bryant Crawford sank two free throws to stake the Demon Deacons to an 81-71 lead. But Kennard made a 3-pointer on the Blue Devils’ next possession, and after an offensive foul on Wake Forest forward John Collins, Kennard hit a tough mid-range jumper off an offensive rebound to quickly cut Wake Forest’s lead in half.
Keyshawn Woods appeared to stop the bleeding for the Demon Deacons (12-8, 3-6) with a deep pull-up jumper for their last points of the game with 2:11 left, but Kennard came right back with a second-chance 3-pointer, and a triple from Grayson Allen made it a one-point game with less than a minute to go.
Another impressive possession set up Kennard’s triple that gave Duke its first lead since the first 10 minutes of the game, and a runner from Crawford glanced off the rim at the buzzer.
“In the timeouts, in all the huddles we had on the court, we said we were going to win this game. And we believed it,” Kennard said. “It was really great to see our guys come together like that.”
The Blue Devils also got two critical offensive rebounds in the last four minutes to extend plays and stopped Wake Forest on its last three possessions of the game, holding an offense that scored 81 points in the first 36 minutes to just two in the last four.
“We didn’t give up straight-line drives,” Duke interim head coach Jeff Capel said. “Our talk was better, our ball-screen defense was better, and we were able to contest shots, and our first shot defense—we were able to get rebounds.”
The Blue Devils came out energized in the second half thanks to hot shooting and a full-court press on defense, trimming an 11-point deficit to one when freshman Frank Jackson converted a fast-break layup with less than 10 minutes remaining. But Collins knocked down a mid-range jumper on the ensuing possession before a 3-pointer by Mitchell Wilbekin put Wake Forest in front by six.
After a triple from the top of the key by Crawford, who finished with 26 points, freshman Jayson Tatum was whistled for an offensive foul to foul out with 6:58 remaining. Although Matt Jones nailed a corner triple to trim the deficit to five with about six minutes, a defensive breakdown on the Demon Deacons' next possession resulted in an easy alley-oop for Collins to keep Duke at arm’s length again.
The Demon Deacons attacked the basket at will for much of the night, drawing 30 fouls and shooting 25-of-32 from the line to maintain the lead for more than 30 minutes. But the Blue Devils did not commit a single foul in the last four minutes of the game.
“You’ve just got to adjust to the game,” graduate student Amile Jefferson said. “I thought our guys did a great job of it, continuing to fight and not letting little things get to them.”
Jefferson, Harry Giles and Tatum all had four fouls by the 12:56 mark of the second half, forcing Capel to look to seldom-used sophomore Antonio Vrankovic for meaningful minutes. Vrankovic got the nod down the stretch in favor of five-star freshman Marques Bolden, who started in Monday's loss against N.C. State but played just three minutes Saturday.
“Antonio Vrankovic came in and really gave us energy, and he was able to do that because he’s had a great week of practice, great attitude,” Capel said. “He came in and and did a really good job.”
Duke will hope to pick up another road win with a quick turnaround Monday night at No. 14 Notre Dame, a week after the loss against the Wolfpack sent the Blue Devils into a few days of turmoil.
“It’s been hell. It’s been so tough, not only physically but mentally,” Jones said. “We always knew we had talent, but we needed a game like today to really believe. We needed to go out there and show it to ourselves.”
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