Sports are a matter of inches. Duke’s battle with Wake Forest showed that time and time again, the last time being in the closing moments.
The ninth-ranked Blue Devils experienced disaster over and over again, but sophomore big Mark Williams stood tall and finished the job on the final possession as the Blue Devils battled to a 76-74 victory in the rematch with Wake Forest Tuesday at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The night was highlighted by repeated leads disappearing out of thin air despite a team-wide effort to support the Blue Devils with both star freshman Paolo Banchero mostly absent from the statsheet in the first half and head coach Mike Krzyzewski missing from the bench to start the second half.
"We really wanted to get the last shot off—worst case scenario we go to overtime. [Banchero] put it up, missed and I got the putback," Williams said. "It was a good game, a little scary obviously."
"I thought Paolo had a good attack there—actually thought that [his layup] was gonna go in and then Mark was really alert and ready to make that play," Scheyer said.
Associate coach Jon Scheyer took over as the team’s head coach to start the second half after medical staff had been tending to Krzyzewski as the first half came to a close. The 34-year-old head coach-in-waiting coached Duke’s 76-64 win at Tuesday’s opponent while Krzyzewski was out with an illness.
"He's doing better. He's in a much better place. I think especially [due to] the fact we got that win," Scheyer said of Krzyzewski's health.
An untimely scoring drought allowed the Demon Deacons to bring the game back to a two-point margin as the crowd stood stunned with under a minute on the clock. With a slim difference between shot and game clock, Wake Forest's Alondes Williams drove to the rim to get fouled by Duke’s Mark Williams. The star senior hit two free throws to tie the game at 74 with 17.5 seconds to go.
On the Blue Devils’ final possession, Banchero took the ball down the length of the court, and put up a layup with a second on the clock. Mark Williams was right there to flush it back in with just four-tenths of a second to go. The referees took a long review for basket interference—looking at the slim margins between the ball and the rim to confirm the basket was good. The referees ultimately ruled in favor of Duke to the delight of the Cameron Crazies. Wake Forest still had barely enough time for one shot, and sophomore guard Damari Monsanto fired off a 70-foot prayer that just rattled out of the rim, allowing all 9,314 in attendance to exhale.
"Teams come in and they always get something crazy," Banchero said. "I couldn't believe it."
"I've really never experienced anything like that. That's college basketball," he added.
The second half began as the first half ended, with an even scoring distribution and cool-headed ball control, but the lead wasn’t safe quite yet. The Blue Devils (22-4, 12-3 in the ACC) kept up the offensive machine with strong interior defense. But as time ticked down, Wake Forest made a furious run to make it a ballgame.
Earlier, a Trevor Keels step-back three followed by a third-chance Wendell Moore Jr., layup gave Duke some more of a cushion as the team aimed to quell the Demon Deacons in front of a raucous home crowd.
The biggest threat to the Blue Devils’ once-19-point lead was a quick 13-2 run off of three threes from Wake Forest’s Dallas Walton and Jake LaRavia at the midway point of the second half. LaRavia gave his best effort to bring his squad back into the game, and his effort also sparked a stronger second half from Wake Forest’s star guard Alondes Williams, who remained in foul trouble the rest of the way. The Wake Forest fouls amounted to Banchero shooting nine from the line, making eight en route to his 13-point night after his scoreless first half.
The short-lived instances of momentum as the crowd exploded served too much for the players’ emotions, as offsetting technical fouls on Wake Forest’s Khadim Sy and Duke’s Mark Williams at the 5:42 mark gave Duke the energy it needed and eventually a chance to build its almost magically-disappearing lead back. Two Keels and two Moore free throws later, the home side was back ahead by nine.
"There's pivotal moments throughout the game, where if you get a stop or two and you score a couple of times you can really break that thing open and I thought we were on the verge of doing that a couple of times," Scheyer said. "[The Demon Deacons] weren't going to go away tonight."
"I think we did a good job of figuring out a way to win. Sometimes it's not the prettiest, it's not the smoothest, but you figure it out," he added.
At Duke’s peak offensive stretch, Mark Williams was constantly open down low to catch and finish lobs, as the big man added another strong performance inside to his resume with a 16-point, 10-rebound effort. It also took until the second half for Banchero to get going, as a corner three and a triplet of free throws from the freshman had the lead ballooning up toward 20 just minutes into the second frame. His playmaking and six assists—paired with five from Moore—had Duke clicking. The Blue Devils final stat sheet featured five players in double-digits, led by 16 from Moore.
While the first half seemed as if there was a lid on the rim, Duke turned a slow start into a solid 42.6% night from the floor. Wake Forest (20-7, 10-6) eventually found a semblance of its stride, but the deficit was far too much to recover from for head coach Steve Forbes’ squad.
Neither team could separate itself through the first several minutes of the game, as Wake Forest’s bigs added a few 3-pointers to counter Duke’s initial inside attack as the teams traded baskets—though few and far between. Keels was an early contributor on the glass just two games removed from posting his first career double-double with four offensive and 11 total rebounds against Clemson. It went back and forth amid the cacophony of clangs off the rim until about the halfway mark of the half. The Blue Devils started the game 5-for-18 from the floor and the game was tied at a measly 13-13 with 10 minutes to go in the first half.
It initially looked like the game would be decided by which team would either stop the other from shooting threes or start converting inside—neither team turned the ball over much and both teams had trouble in the halfcourt.
Nothing was as big to Duke’s initial takeover as Alondes Williams’ absence—Wake Forest’s senior guard and ACC-leading scorer picked up his second foul under six minutes into the contest and sat on the bench until the under-seven timeout, allowing Duke to not worry about his multi-level scoring abilities, playmaking and aggressiveness on the glass. Williams ended the half with just three points and two rebounds. He supported that with 15 in the second, which just wasn’t enough to bring the Demon Deacons back from the big first-half deficit.
Duke takes on Florida State at home Saturday.
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Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity junior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.