The last time Duke took on Wake Forest, it suffered one of its worst losses of the 2019-20 season in Winston-Salem, N.C.
The 21st-ranked Blue Devils will hope to avenge that loss Saturday at 12 p.m. in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Wake Forest (3-2, 0-2 in the ACC) is coming off two consecutive losses and remains winless in ACC play, but brings an impressive level of experience—the Demon Deacons’ leaders in points, rebounds, assists and blocks are all juniors and seniors. Most notable is junior forward Isaiah Mucius, who leads the team with 11.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. Standing at 6-foot-8, Mucius could wreak havoc on a Duke team that frequently runs smaller lineups.
There are a few keys for the Blue Devils to come out of this game victorious. First, the turnover department. Duke (4-2, 2-0) plays very aggressive defense, applying consistent pressure and causing turnovers that create transition opportunities.
“We have to continue to pressure guys and make them turn their backs and get easy buckets in transition,” freshman point guard Jeremy Roach, who finished with three steals in Duke’s recent win against Boston College, said Friday in a Zoom with the media.
The Blue Devils forced 21 turnovers against the Eagles, turning those giveaways into 25 points. Meanwhile, Wake Forest has struggled taking care of the ball this season, totaling 31 turnovers in its first two ACC games. Duke will look to stay aggressive on the defensive end of the floor Saturday as it aims to take advantage of its strength while exposing one of the Demon Deacons’ biggest weaknesses.
Duke must also focus on defending the perimeter. In its recent loss to Virginia, Wake Forest shot a blazing 52.6% from beyond the arc, with senior guard Jonah Antonio and sophomore forward Ismael Massoud combining to hit 8-of-13 shots from downtown. At 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-8, respectively, Antonio and Massoud’s height and versatility make them a nightmare to defend.
The Blue Devils will need to emphasize tight coverage on the defensive end Saturday in order to both force turnovers and minimize uncontested shots, an area of the game that sparked their comeback against Boston College as well.
“Coming out of halftime, we tried to put a little pressure on them,” Jon Scheyer, who was filling in as head coach against the Eagles, said. “We got a couple turnovers and got some stops, and I thought it really got us back in that game right away.”
On the offense end, Duke will need production from its experienced leaders. Sophomore forward Wendell Moore Jr. stepped up in a huge way against Boston College, leading Duke with 25 points. After struggling to begin the season, Moore used the prolonged break prior to the Boston College game to get back on track.
“I used that time to get in the gym and make a lot of shots,” Moore said. “For me, it was just seeing the ball go in.”
Fellow upperclassmen Matthew Hurt and Jordan Goldwire also had big games Wednesday, posting 17 and 12 points, respectively. The Blue Devils' experienced players must continue to step up not only to get past Wake Forest, but against the rest of the team's conference foes as well.
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With Jalen Johnson likely missing Saturday’s matchup and head coach Mike Krzyzewski awaiting a negative COVID-19 test to finally return to the sideline, Duke will be forced to overcome its fair share of adversity Saturday. Look for the Blue Devils to emphasize gritty effort on defense and veteran leadership on offense in order to keep their undefeated conference record intact.