Despite chaotic ending, No. 8 Duke men's basketball's loss to Wake Forest proves that the ACC can still deliver

Jon Scheyer instructs Caleb Foster (middle) and Tyrese Proctor (right) during Duke's loss to Wake Forest.
Jon Scheyer instructs Caleb Foster (middle) and Tyrese Proctor (right) during Duke's loss to Wake Forest.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.—Head coach Jon Scheyer wasn’t happy when Wake Forest students rushed the court and trampled Kyle Filipowski. But he certainly wasn’t angry with Demon Deacon head coach Steve Forbes.

A loss seemed imminent the moment that Tyrese Proctor’s pass to Filipowski bounced off the center’s hand and sailed out of bounds. There were just 2.4 seconds on the clock, and Proctor’s would-be assist was Duke’s last chance at tying a two-point game. The Australian point guard fell to his knees in apparent anguish before gathering himself up, high-fiving Filipowski and preparing to foul for a hail-mary victory.

It didn’t come. The Demon Deacons widened their lead to four points, the buzzer sounded and before Scheyer had finished shaking hands with Forbes, the fans from the stands were suddenly all over the court.

Moments later, walk-on center Stanley Borden and a Duke student manager were helping a visibly injured Filipowski out of the ruckus, and Scheyer was in the mix, enraged.

But when he showed up to his postgame press conference — granted, a few minutes late — Scheyer’s first words weren’t about his injured player. They were in praise of the team that had just knocked his off the top of the ACC’s standings and broken Duke’s five-game win streak.

“Hats off to Wake Forest. They’re a really good team,” he said. “They’re not respected, when they should be nationally.”

Scheyer has plenty of numbers to back him up on that, too, not least of which is Wake Forest’s 15-0 home record.

Forbes paid the same courtesy to Scheyer when he took over the press table a few minutes later. As soon as he sat down, he praised the quality of the game and its atmosphere before lauding Filipowski.

“He’s probably a top-10 draft pick,” Forbes said.

He went on to criticize court storming. “As a coach, I just don't feel safe,” he said. “I'm sure the next time that happens, we'll do a better job of taking care of the situation.”

Then he addressed the other elephant in the room, the thing that kept his name in a slew of headlines over the past few days and that prompted a Wake Forest fan in Saturday’s audience to wear a t-shirt that read, “LUNARDI PUT SOME RESPECT ON OUR NAME.” ESPN’s Joe Lunardi posted his NCAA tournament predictions Friday morning and put Wake Forest as his “first team out.” He also predicted that only four of the 15 teams in the ACC (Duke, North Carolina, Virginia and Clemson) would qualify for March Madness at all.

On Wednesday, Forbes spoke on ACC Network about Lunardi’s lack of respect for the ACC; headlines said he had gone on a “rant.” Forbes addressed those accusations Saturday afternoon.

“I didn’t go on ACC PM to dog Joe Lunardi about Bracketology,” Forbes said. “I don’t know where that message got confusing. The issue that I had is the comment he made a year ago.”

Forbes was referring to Lunardi’s tweets in March 2023, when the analyst wrote, “The ACC hasn't been a top-three league since COVID, slipped to an all-time worst seventh this year (behind the Mountain West, per KenPom) and is being dragged down by its bottom third.” In a follow-up tweet, he called out the 2023 ACC Players of the Year to say that they were nowhere near as good as the ACC’s best had been before the pandemic.

Forbes’ response Saturday was impassioned. 

“We had two teams playing in the [2022] Final Four, one team playing in the Elite Eight and one team play for the National Championship,” he said. “That's not a down league. And that was a disrespectful thing to say.”

Who was the “we” here? Forbes wasn’t just talking about Wake Forest — he was speaking for the whole conference.

Despite being in the home stretch of conference competition, despite their toughest foes Saturday being each other, Forbes and Scheyer came together this weekend to advocate for something bigger than their own individual teams. They spoke for a conference that they believe is losing national respect without warrant.

“I love the ACC,” Forbes said. “I will stick up for it.”

“What are we following? Are we following the metrics? Are we not? If we are, we shouldn’t even be discussing it,” Scheyer said of the Demon Deacons qualifying for March Madness. “We look at the NET and KenPom and I think [Wake Forest is] 21.”

Duke lost an important game Saturday — there’s no doubt about it. The loss broke a five-game win streak, knocked the Blue Devils off the top of the conference and made Duke’s prospects in the upcoming ACC tournament look a little more tenuous.

In the long run, however, this loss might just be a victory for the Blue Devils. If the ACC loses national respect, Duke does too. When the conference looks different next season, it will be more important than ever for the ACC to hold onto its place in college basketball, if only for the sake of Selection Sunday.

There is great power in great hate: that good-ole-fashioned rivalry enmity that brings out the best of basketball. Scheyer and Forbes know how to appreciate that kind of hatred. It might just be what saves their conference.

Sophie Levenson | Sports features editor

Sophie Levenson is a Trinity sophomore and sports features editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.


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