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Preview: Duke men's basketball looking to build momentum against Wake Forest

Matthew Hurt notched a career-high 26 points in Duke's first matchup with Wake Forest Jan. 9.
Matthew Hurt notched a career-high 26 points in Duke's first matchup with Wake Forest Jan. 9.

Duke heads to Winston-Salem, N.C., to face off against Wake Forest Wednesday at 8:30 p.m., with the Blue Devils looking to win their second game in a row and build momentum heading into Saturday’s contest against No. 7 Virginia. 

Here are some key storylines ahead of Duke’s matchup with the Demon Deacons.

Defend the three

Duke comfortably took down Wake Forest 79-68 in the two teams’ first meeting this season, but the Demon Deacons will be a much tougher matchup this time around. Since that Jan. 9 loss to the Blue Devils, Wake Forest has defeated Pittsburgh and Miami, two teams Duke lost to, and nearly upset No. 16 Florida State this past Saturday before falling in overtime.

A key part of the Demon Deacons’ success has been 3-point shooting. In those three games against Pittsburgh, Miami and Florida State, Wake Forest shot 46.9%, 44.8% and 48.1% from downtown, respectively. Graduate student guard Jonah Antonio is especially dangerous from distance, shooting 7-for-8 from 3-point range against the Seminoles. Meanwhile, Duke has struggled to defend the three ball this season to say the least, ranking last in the ACC in opposing 3-point percentage.

Keep your foot on the gas

It is imperative that Duke keeps pushing and playing hard regardless of the score Wednesday night. Against Florida State, Wake Forest trailed by 13 points with 13 minutes left in the game, yet came all the way back and found itself leading by two in the last possession of regulation before the Seminoles’ Scottie Barnes made a shot at the buzzer to force overtime. Against Miami, the Demon Deacons were down 13-5 nearly eight minutes into the game only to storm back and win by double figures. Wake Forest also overcame a 12-point second-half deficit in its win against Pittsburgh. 

The Blue Devils will need to watch out for this, especially after they gave up a 15-point lead themselves in their recent loss to Notre Dame. To avoid a repeat of that, Duke must play consistent defense and minimize easy buckets for the Demon Deacons.

“When you work on your defense more than your offense, you can get that result a little bit better,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said Monday in a Zoom with the media. “And again, we’re going to continue to do that.”

Turnover game

Despite Duke’s struggles, one thing it has done well this season is force turnovers, ranking fifth in the ACC in opponent giveaways. Freshmen Jeremy Roach and DJ Steward, along with senior Jordan Goldwire, have been huge factors for the Blue Devils in that department, especially in turning those turnovers into easy transition buckets. Wednesday’s matchup with the Demon Deacons presents an opportunity for Duke to get some early fast-break points and build momentum from the jump, as Wake Forest averages the second-most turnovers in the ACC at 14.1 per game. 

“Our defense was really good tonight, but it also can improve,” sophomore forward Matthew Hurt said after Duke’s win against N.C. State this past Saturday, a game in which the Blue Devils forced 18 Wolfpack turnovers.

Battle of the forwards

Sophomore forward Matthew Hurt was phenomenal in Duke’s matchup with the Demon Deacons earlier this season, posting a career-high 26 points. But as we all know, it’s difficult to beat the same team twice, and Wake Forest has the ability to handle Hurt with three talented forwards of its own. 

Junior Isaiah Mucius and sophomores Ody Oguama and Ismael Massoud are poised to wreak havoc on an inconsistent Blue Devils defense. Massoud posted 17 points on 5-10 shooting against Duke earlier this season, with Oguama and Mucius each adding nine points on 3-of-5 shooting apiece. Although Hurt’s scoring ability exceeds that of any one of Wake Forest’s trio, quantity may beat quality if the Demon Deacons can get Hurt in foul trouble while avoiding the same fate for themselves through frequent player rotation. 

Furthermore, with freshman forward Jalen Johnson opting out of the remainder of the season, the Blue Devils will need Hurt and others to step up and fill in for Johnson’s absence by playing physically and winning the battles inside.

“They really rehearsed the game plan and then they executed it,” Krzyzewski said of his team’s win against N.C. State. “And we were more physical.”

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