When the Blue Devils woke up Saturday morning, they likely knew they’d be without a pair of sophomore big men.
A bigger surprise, however, came shortly before tip-off when Duke learned it would be without its head coach.
Nonetheless, thanks to a career-best performance from freshman Alex O’Connell, the No. 7 Blue Devils overcame the absence of Mike Krzyzewski due to a virus to cruise past Wake Forest 89-71 at Cameron Indoor Stadium and move to better than .500 in ACC play. O’Connell dropped nine straight points in a 75-second first-half span on his way to 13 on the afternoon, and Marvin Bagley III had 30 points and 11 boards to post his 14th double-double in 17 games, tying the program record for the most by a freshman in a single season.
“Coach woke up this morning with a virus and wasn’t feeling well, so he made the decision he didn’t want to get our guys sick. He didn’t want to put anyone else in jeopardy, so he made the decision to not coach, but he’s better,” associate head coach Jeff Capel said. “We were prepared as a coaching staff, as a team, and obviously all of us would have wanted Coach out there and wish that he could have been, but we respect his decision in always looking out for us, not wanting to hurt the team. Everyone stepped up.”
After a sluggish start from the two sides that featured five total turnovers in less than five minutes to open the game, Wake Forest was the early aggressor, grabbing an early advantage at 15-11 as the visitors hit three of their first six attempts from long distance.
But the Blue Devils (15-2, 3-2 in the ACC) found their stride offensively, going on a 14-2 spurt to grab hold of a comfortable lead, capped by a strong sequence from Bagley as he missed two shots, collected both offensive boards and ultimately knocked down a pair at the line, bringing the Cameron Crazies to their feet.
“It felt great to finally be back, have all the students back from break. It was a great feeling to play in this environment again and have this type of energy behind us,” Bagley said. “We came out with great intensity from the start. We played very great defense. We just got out to a great start. Everybody was talking to each other, you could hear each other. The communication was there, and we really played together.”
Still, the Demon Deacons (8-9, 2-3) would not go away, hanging around and getting as close at three midway through the opening stanza.
But O’Connell provided life off the bench for Duke, sparking a 13-5 run to close the half. With Wake Forest in significant foul trouble, the Blue Devils capitalized, going 14-of-18 from the charity stripe before halftime as they led 46-33 entering the break.
Up against one of the conference’s stronger offensive units, Duke had to keep its foot on the gas coming out of the locker room. Although the Blue Devils stretched their advantage to as many as 18 early in the second half, Wake Forest pulled back within a dozen on a Bryant Crawford and-one with 9:28 to play.
But a Gary Trent Jr. corner 3-pointer the next possession made sure Danny Manning’s squad would get no closer as the Jeff Capel-led Blue Devils finished off their 15th victory of the season. The freshman later hit two more treys on back-to-back possessions to push the advantage to 22 with less than seven minutes to play.
Trent, who spent a period of time in the first half on the Duke bench sitting over a garbage can, was a game-time decision as a result of the same virus that forced Krzyzewski to miss the contest. Yet the freshman wing erupted for one of his best shooting performances of the season, finishing 6-of-7 from beyond the arc en route to 19 points.
“With Gary, it’s an understatement saying how good he was today, especially if you saw right before the game how he was in the locker room,” Capel said. “For him, first and foremost to be able to go out there—and give it a try and then to be able to play how he did—was pretty incredible.”
Wendell Carter Jr. dealt with foul trouble yet again and fouled out in 28 minutes despite 15 points and 11 boards, another double-double for the Atlanta big man.
Capel suggested that the freshman forward could benefit from a shorter leash from the Blue Devil coaching staff, as he tends to pick up cheap reach-in fouls when he is fatigued later in games. But Duke’s acting head coach noted that on the whole, he was impressed with his team’s activity in their 2-3 zone, which limited the Demon Deacons to just 36.0 percent shooting from the field.
It was also a strange afternoon for Grayson Allen, who wound up with 12 rebounds and eight assists, but struggled to score yet again, finishing with only two points as he did not register a single made field goal.
“If I’m not scoring, I’ve got to do something to contribute to these guys. Continuing to lead, trying to get deflections on defense,” Allen said. “[Wake Forest is] a perimeter-oriented team and a lot of their scoring comes through their perimeter, so a lot of times its long rebounds. Early on I got four just standing there and waiting for long rebounds and jumping up and getting it.”
The Blue Devils now will have a quick turnaround as they head to South Florida for a Monday evening matchup with No. 18 Miami and All-ACC candidate Bruce Brown.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak."