After a last-second drive from R.J. Barrett gave the home team a three-point cushion with 20 seconds remaining, Duke was in strong position to come away with a win.
But a pair of free throws from Wake Forest and a costly turnover by Jack White gave the Demon Deacons the ball with 7.4 seconds remaining and a chance to pull off the upset of the season as 20-plus point underdogs.
Chaundee Brown's buzzer-beating layup was halfway down and then floated on the rim, but ultimately rolled out in the final second to the cheers—and sighs of relief—of the Cameron Crazies.
The fourth-ranked Blue Devils eked out a 71-70 win against Wake Forest Tuesday evening behind a 28-point performance from Barrett. Barrett shouldered the offensively load from the outset as Duke struggled to find momentum throughout the contest, breaking the Blue Devil freshman scoring record previously held by Marvin Bagley III.
"We were fortunate in the last play," Krzyzewski said. "That’s inexcusable what we did. I don’t think we’re fortunate to win. [Wake Forest] played great, not good. Brown and Childress were sensational. But their whole team, that’s the best I’ve seen them play, and they played throughout. Obviously they were playing a lot better than us and took a ten point lead, but in the last 15 minutes of the game we played better."
Trailing by just one at halftime, it was the Demon Deacons who hit the ground running in the second half.
After Barrett knocked down a long-range jumper to knot the score at 39-apiece, Wake Forest's Brandon Childress ignited with a layup, a jumper and a three on the fast break to leave the home team reeling. A missed pass from Barrett gave the Demon Deacons the ball back, and Sharone Wright Jr. left Wake Forest's bench rocking with a corner three, giving the visiting team a 10-point lead and leading to a furious timeout from Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Following Wake Forest's early second-half run, the Blue Devils (26-4, 14-3 in the ACC) worked meticulously, using a Tre Jones three followed by numerous high powered drives from Barrett to bring the home team within three. And just as Duke caught the wind in its sails, Alex O'Connell, the Blue Devils' surprise development in the absence of Zion Williamson, sent Cameron into a frenzy with an and-one drive.
"We stopped calling sets," Krzyzewski said. "We just ran our motion offense. Tre hit the three and Alex O’Connell had a big three-point play, and we could see we were more ourselves. We did say at that time, we’re not playing well. But we’ve got 16 minutes to go and there’s plenty of time. In that 16 minutes we played with great passion."
But even after Duke seemed to have the tide of the game swinging in its favor, the Blue Devils could not keep the Demon Deacons (11-18, 4-13) at bay.
Although Cam Reddish gave Duke a spark with a pair of deep threes to keep the Blue Devils going, Brown and Childress hounded Duke's back court to prevent the Blue Devils from building any real momentum. Poor shooting from Duke didn't help matters either. With Barrett going 11-for-23 and multiple Blue Devils struggling to finish at the rim, Duke ended the contest shooting a paltry 41.4 percent from the field and 7-for-22 from three.
To make matters worse, Jones—the Blue Devils' only player outside of Barrett with double-digit points—was sent to the locker room down the stretch with an apparent knee injury. However, after three minutes of Jordan Goldwire as primary facilitator, the Duke freshman found his way back to the floor.
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Reddish was rendered a complete non-factor due to reckless plays in the first half. The Norristown, Pa., native was whistled for a trio of charges in the opening 20 minutes, limiting him to just 26 minutes and six points on the night.
Even Barrett fell victim to numerous freshman mistakes, giving the ball away three times on ill-advised feeds down the post that could have given Duke's offense momentum in the opening 20 minutes. He finished the night with a team-high seven turnovers.
Outside of Barrett's scoring, the only bright spot for the Blue Devils' first half came from junior captain Jack White. Insistent on shaking the rust off for good, White electrified the crowd with back-to-back threes to get Cameron rocking. However, Duke couldn't keep the momentum going and erased any advantage the Blue Devils could muster.
Duke will look to shake off its poor Tuesday performance against No. 3 North Carolina Saturday night in Chapel Hill, seeking revenge after the Tar Heels' victory just two weeks ago.
"It should be a war," Reddish said. "These guys are a team full of fighters and I feel like we can go out there and win the game, and that’s the goal at the end."