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Duke men's basketball avoids upset against Wake Forest with late surge

Freshman guard DJ Steward impressed on both ends Saturday.
Freshman guard DJ Steward impressed on both ends Saturday.

Cameron Indoor Stadium hosted a shooting clinic Saturday afternoon.

Both Duke and Wake Forest combined to shoot 49 percent from the field, but the 21st-ranked Blue Devils were able to pull out the 79-68 win in head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s return to the Cameron Indoor Stadium sideline.

Matthew Hurt and DJ Steward led the offensive charge for the Blue Devils, putting their scoring versatility on full display all afternoon. Hurt set a career-high with 26 points while Steward followed with 21 points of his own, and in the end their scoring proved enough for Duke to avoid the upset despite a close first half.

“DJ is a great player. He’s a great scorer. He can score in so many different ways, whether it's off the bounce, whether it's catch-and-shoot, whether it’s playing off penetration,” Hurt said. “I think me and him can score the ball, so I think we play really well together.”

For much of the second half, Wake Forest (3-3, 0-3 in the ACC) continued to battle, with the Blue Devils (5-2, 3-0) never seeming to stretch their lead past two possessions. But in the waning minutes of the game, Hurt delivered what proved to be the dagger.

After getting a defensive rebound, Hurt took the ball down the court and found himself with his back to the hoop on the baseline. The sophomore collected himself, put the ball on the deck and then used his long frame to create enough space for a fadeaway jumper that found the bottom of the net and gave Duke a 68-59 lead with just over five minutes remaining. 

Although Hurt and Steward stole the show, the unsung hero of the night was senior leader Jordan Goldwire. In addition to tallying a career-best 14 points, the defensive guru disrupted Wake Forest’s guards all game long. Goldwire notched three steals, with his defensive rotations and ability to sprint down the court every possession acting as immeasurable contributors to Duke’s win.

“There’s been a good chemistry on the defensive end…. Our defense has been kind of good the whole time," Krzyzewski said.

Hurt got off to a blazing hot start to the game, even for his own standards. After knocking down a jumper off the opening tip, the Minnesota native followed it up with a trey and a layup, effectively showing the Demon Deacons that he could and would score from all three levels.

As impressive as Hurt’s air raid from the land of plenty and the mid range was, he truly displayed his improvement from last season with some of his grittier plays in the paint. 

After a missed layup by Wendell Moore Jr. with eight minutes left in the game, Hurt fought through a sea of Demon Deacons to grab the rebound. While he didn’t finish off the play initially, Hurt continued to fight, after a series of volleying the ball back and forth above the rim the 6-foot-9 forward finally hit the lay-in to put Duke ahead by seven, the Blue Devils’ largest lead of the game at the time.

Despite Steward standing seven inches shorter than Hurt, the Chicago native had no problem scoring in the paint—or from anywhere else for that matter. The sharpshooting guard converted a physical putback and-one in the final minute of the first half, putting the Blue Devils ahead 37-33.

In addition to his usual offensive attack, Steward left his prints on the defensive side as well, and he made sure to thank Goldwire and Moore in his press conference for the defensive lessons they’ve taught him.

“I want to be a two-way player,” Steward said. “A lot of people say when I was in high school that I wasn’t a great defender. So I’m trying to get better every day on defense.”

Wake Forest was not afraid to fire back on offense, however.

Carter Whitt, who was still in high school just a month ago before joining the Demon Deacons, provided eight points for the visitors, while junior Daivien Williamson and sophomore Ismael Massoud contributed 17 points each.

As good as Hurt, Steward and Whitt shot the ball, the turnovers from both teams was enough to make any coach’s blood boil. With nine apiece at the half, this game had all the signs of a sloppy finish until the end and it delivered, as the two teams combined for 29 total turnovers.

On a macro level for Duke’s season, Moore disappointed Saturday. The sophomore forward shined with 25 points Wednesday against Boston College, but was nonexistent on the offensive end against Wake Forest. His four turnovers and 1-for-7 mark from the field are not signs of a player who is finding his groove, and that became all-the-more obvious when Moore air-balled two shots from the field. 

Next, Duke will travel to Blacksburg, Va., for a road game at Virginia Tech Tuesday.

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