WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.—After giving up 89 and 96 points in two road losses to Boston College and N.C. State to start conference play, the Blue Devils were searching for a solution to their perimeter defensive woes.
But following a dominant 84-70 victory on the road against in-state rival Wake Forest—No. 4 Duke’s fifth consecutive ACC victory—it seems as though the Blue Devils have finally found an answer in the zone defense.
After allowing the Demon Deacons to drain their first 3-point attempt in the contest, the Blue Devils buckled down defensively, forcing 12 consecutive misses from beyond the arc by a team that had converted on 38.8 percent of its 3-point attempts entering the contest and holding them to just 5-of-20 from deep for the game.
“We’ve just practiced like crazy with our footwork,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said of his team’s defensive improvement. “We’re moving our feet really well right now, it helps us in man and zone. We work on it every day. The guys have been enthusiastic about it and it’s paying off. And we still have to do it.”
The Blue Devils (18-2, 6-2 in the ACC) have now held their opponents to an average of 64.4 points per contest during their five-game winning streak, after allowing an average of 92.7 points in their first three conference games.
Wake Forest (8-12, 1-7) kept it close in the early going with a hot 6-of-8 start from the field, trailing just 19-17 with 10:44 left in the half despite committing nine turnovers in the first nine minutes. Unfortunately for the Demon Deacons, regression to the mean and an inability to maintain possession of the basketball plagued them. They proceeded to convert on just four of their next 20 shots and coughed up the ball another six times, allowing Duke to enter the locker room with a 41-30 lead.
Senior Grayson Allen continued to break out of his recent slump. After draining four 3-pointers Saturday against Pittsburgh, the Jacksonville, Fla., native continued to show more confidence Tuesday. Allen knocked down each of his first three shot attempts and led the Blue Devils with 13 points at halftime.
The captain’s leadership was especially crucial Tuesday with freshman Trevon Duval having an off night, missing all eight of his shot attempts in the first scoreless outing of his young career. Allen took over at point guard for much of the second half and led the team with six assists.
“There’s a greater chance for inconsistent performance with young players,” Krzyzewski said. “But Grayson, he’s our backup there. Grayson did a great job of running the team, and we got the ball to our big guys and they came through for us again.”
Duke stormed out of the locker room, draining its first three shot attempts and extending the lead to what seemed like a comfortable 20 points with just under 17 minutes left to play in the second half. But the Demon Deacons kept it interesting, embarking on a 19-7 run in the next seven minutes to cut the Duke lead to just eight at 58-50.
Guard Brandon Childress and 7-foot-1 center Doral Moore led the way for Wake Forest. Childress’ 18-point performance and Moore’s perfect 9-of-9 night with 18 points and 12 rebounds kept the Demon Deacons in it, but it wasn’t enough.
“The only way we could defend him was to get him in foul trouble,” Krzyzewski said of Moore’s dominance—he scored 14 points in the first half. “They’ve done such a good job with him and obviously he’s done a great job of working at it. He’s really come on.”
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The Blue Devils took advantage of Moore’s foul trouble, using a 17-8 run to seal the victory in his absence, and he eventually fouled out after 30 minutes on the floor.
Freshmen Wendell Carter Jr. and Marvin Bagley III continued to lead the Blue Devils’ effort on the interior. After scoring just 11 points in the first half, the duo turned it on in the second half. Carter finished with a game-high 23 points and 12 rebounds and Bagley added 16 and 11, the eighth time the two recorded double-doubles in the same contest this season.
“He’s a great teammate. From the start, we’re able to talk to him. He’s extremely mature. One of the plays that shows his maturity, he gets the ball with seven seconds left on the shot clock, he didn’t rush at all,” Allen told reporters. “Just took his time, got fouled, got to the free throw line and knocked them down. That’s a big play. He plays beyond his years.”
After being named co-ACC Player of the Week Monday, freshman Gary Trent Jr. also continued his recent tear and efficient shooting, adding 19 points on an efficient 6-of-12 shooting from the field. Trent, Allen, Carter and Bagley combined for all 75 of Duke’s 84 points.
The Blue Devils will return home to Cameron Indoor Stadium for one of their biggest games of the season Saturday afternoon at home against No. 2 Virginia.