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Reeling Duke men's basketball side travels to face Wake Forest

<p>Graduate student Amile Jefferson and the Blue Devils will look to slow down a dangerous Wake Forest offense after allowing 84 points Monday night.</p>

Graduate student Amile Jefferson and the Blue Devils will look to slow down a dangerous Wake Forest offense after allowing 84 points Monday night.

With its season at a crossroads, Duke will have to right the ship Saturday by doing two things it has not done all season—win on the road and beat a team that scores more than 80 points per game.

The No. 17 Blue Devils have been plagued by lackadaisical defense in their current slump of three losses in their last four games, allowing at least 78 points in all three defeats, and keeping points off the board will not be any easier when Duke visits Wake Forest Saturday at 3 p.m. at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, N.C.

The Demon Deacons average 81.4 points per game, topping what has proven to be a magic number for Blue Devil opponents this season. Duke is 15-1 against opponents averaging fewer than 80 points per contest—the only loss came at Louisville Jan. 14—but 0-4 against opponents averaging more.

In Monday’s ugly 84-82 home loss to N.C. State, the Blue Devils had little trouble offensively for much of the game but could not even outscore the 14th-worst scoring defense in the ACC. Against Wake Forest—the 13th-worst scoring defense in the conference—Duke could find itself in a similar shootout.

“We had open shots, we had great shots and we didn’t hit them, and that happens sometimes,” sophomore Luke Kennard said after Monday’s game. “But then when we’re not hitting shots, we need to get stops.”

The Blue Devils (15-5, 3-4 in the ACC) have won four straight and 12 of their last 13 against the Demon Deacons, but Wake Forest has been one of the most improved teams in the ACC thus far. Third-year head coach Danny Manning’s squad has already exceeded its win total in conference play from last year, when it finished 2-16, and it has scored at least 87 points in three of its last four games.

The Demon Deacons (12-8, 3-5)—currently projected to be a No. 10 seed in the NCAA tournament by ESPN bracket expert Joe Lunardi—have had success this year by spreading the floor and launching a barrage of 3-pointers as the type of fast-paced team Duke struggled to contain in losses against Virginia Tech and the Wolfpack.

Six of the seven players in Wake Forest’s regular rotation attempt more than 2.5 triples per game, and the same number of them knock down more than a third of their attempts. Redshirt sophomore Keyshawn Woods—playing his first year in Winston-Salem as a transfer from Charlotte—shoots 44.6 percent from beyond the arc to lead the team and 6-foot-10 forward Dinos Mitoglou also makes more than one triple per game, forcing opposing frontcourt players to step out to the perimeter and guard him.

But the Demon Deacons are led by sophomore John Collins, their only weapon who plays almost exclusively in the post. The 6-foot-10 forward leads the team with 17.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game and will present a formidable challenge in the frontcourt for Blue Devil graduate student Amile Jefferson if he can stay out of foul trouble.

Jefferson started both games last week in his return from a right-foot bone bruise he suffered nearly three weeks ago. The Philadelphia native helped Duke shut Miami down in the paint during a second-half comeback Saturday, but was not much of a presence in the post Monday against N.C. State.

“We’ve got to fight for 40 minutes, and our inability to do that lets teams stay in games,” Jefferson said. “We’re not playing a bad team for the rest of the year. Every team is a good team. Every team is a program team, so if you don’t fight for 40 minutes, you give them chances to beat you.”

It has been nearly two years since Jefferson was on the floor for an ACC road win, and he is one of just four Blue Devils playing significant minutes this year who have won on the road in their careers.

Now, Duke will try to avoid losing its first four ACC road games for the first time since 1994-95, the last year head coach Mike Krzyzewski was out for an extended period of time due to back trouble. That year, the Blue Devils did not win a road game in conference play all year on their way to a 2-14 ACC record.

Comparisons to that lost season, the last time Duke failed to make the NCAA tournament, are becoming far too easy for Blue Devil fans—N.C. State’s win at Cameron Indoor Stadium Monday was its first since 1995, too.

But there is still time for Duke to turn its season around. The last time the Blue Devils lost their first three road games before winning, which Duke has a chance to do Saturday, was the 2009-10 campaign. Far from finishing 13-18, that team went on to win ACC and national championships.


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