WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.—If someone had told you that Duke shot 91.2 percent from the free throw line on 34 attempts, you would be completely reasonable in assuming that the Blue Devils physically dominated their opponent into submission with Vernon Carey Jr. feasting inside.
However, you can throw all rationality out the door when it comes to Duke’s performance Tuesday night. In the 113-101 double-overtime loss on the road at Wake Forest, the hosts made more freebies than the Blue Devils attempted, with 37 makes on a half-century of tries from the charity stripe.
"I am angry with us for fouling so much," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "They had [19 free throw attempts] in the first half. We fouled, I am not blaming the officials. And then we did not foul and that is the key in order for us to beat them—they score a lot from the foul line. We did not get messed over or anything.”
Duke’s poor start could largely be attributed to early fouling. Less than nine minutes into the contest, the Demon Deacons were already into the bonus and held a 17-13 lead. Just over three minutes later, with 8:03 left in the half, Wake Forest found itself with a comfortable 29-18 advantage and the opportunity to shoot two free throws for every foul the rest of the way.
But the tides turned for the Blue Devils, partly due to their lack of fouling for the remainder of the half. For the last eight minutes before halftime, Duke only committed two fouls and stormed back to even the game at 39 entering the break. Krzyzewski reached deep into his bench to alleviate some of the foul troubles by playing 11 men during the opening 20 minutes.
The Blue Devils were sparked by seldom-played forward Justin Robinson, who relieved Carey and senior Javin DeLaurier for various stretches as they struggled with foul trouble. Although all seemed well at the half with Duke holding all the momentum, the team's inability to defend without fouling would come back to haunt Duke later.
“Obviously, it is difficult playing through foul trouble, but we just did a poor job coming out,” DeLaurier said. “When you are playing in foul trouble that affects the rest of the game. Unfortunately, we were not able to battle through it and get the win tonight.”
The second half started much of the same, with the Blue Devils playing a relatively clean game for the first nine minutes. Carey picked up his third foul on the offensive end while Robinson and Jordan Goldwire each had one apiece, but Duke was able to build out a 62-50 lead with 10:54 left in regulation.
However, a Robinson personal foul with 10:42 remaining in the second half marked the beginning of a new phase in the game that saw the Blue Devils rapidly amass fouls. In under five minutes, Robinson picked up two additional fouls to sit at four while Carey and DeLaurier also picked up their fourth fouls, leaving all three Duke big men precariously close to sitting on the pine for the rest of the night.
“Second half we played defense and we did not foul, and we got a 10, 12-point lead. And then we started fouling again and that got them into single digits, five points,” Krzyzewski said. “At the end of the game, the last minute, we just gave the ball up.”
And sit on the pine they did. Carey fouled out with 3:49 left in regulation, while Robinson and DeLaurier joined the freshman on the bench during the first overtime period. Carey played only 19 minutes on the night and has been in foul trouble for three of Duke’s five losses. Senior captain DeLaurier has struggled with foul trouble throughout his career and only had five minutes of playing time before sitting the bench. Meanwhile, Robinson struggled positioning in the paint in his first meaningful minutes on the floor this season.
“They started to be really aggressive," Krzyzewski said. "We had 15 fouls among our three big guys. Obviously, our post defense was not good.”
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As a result, Krzyzewski was forced to use a small-ball lineup that saw the Blue Devils exposed on the inside. Using Matthew Hurt at the five with Tre Jones, Goldwire, Wendell Moore Jr. and Cassius Stanley on the floor for much of the extra periods, Duke was abused inside. The Demon Deacons finished with 48 points in the paint while center Olivier Sarr posted 25 points on an 11-for-14 performance from the line. Sarr drew 10 fouls over the contest, before fouling out himself in the first overtime.
Fouls were not only a problem for the big men. Jones, Stanley and Moore all finished with four fouls, many of which were intentional, that may have limited their defensive aggressiveness in the overtime periods. Wake Forest senior guard Brandon Childress scored 13 of his 17 points after regulation.
If the Blue Devils intend to make noise in March, they need to be more disciplined defensively, as teams will use the Demon Deacons' victory as a blueprint for attacking the otherwise stout Duke defense.
“I would not blame it on anything else other than we lost the game,” Hurt said when asked about the officiating. “We were not ready tonight. We have to fix that by practice and come out next game with a lot more energy.”