WINSTON-SALEM - Kyle Singler said Duke teammate Ryan Kelly played nearly a perfect game.
The numbers from the fourth-ranked Blue Devils’ 83-59 defeat of Wake Forest on Saturday bear that out.
Although the inspired Deacons seriously challenged Duke into the second half at the Joel Coliseum, Kelly’s efficient performance helped put the Blue Devils over the top.
Kelly made all six of his field goal attempts – including four 3-pointers – to score 20 points, exceeding his career high by seven points. After going 4-for-4 from the field with 11 points and eight rebounds in a win Wednesday night at N.C. State, Kelly is the hottest player on Duke’s team.
“It’s not going to be every game where I go 6-for-6, or whatever I was from the field,” Kelly said. “But I’m confident in my shot. Every day come to work and be hungry, and good things will happen.”
The game was close until the second half even though Duke (18-1, 5-1 ACC) is the ACC’s only ranked team and Wake Forest (7-13, 0-5) is in last place in the conference. The Deacons scored 18 of the first 31 points before falling behind 41-32 at halftime.
Thanks to a quick start to the second half, Wake Forest trailed just 44-40 after C.J. Harris hit a 3-pointer with 17 minutes, 34 seconds remaining.
“We showed a lot of competitive spirit out there,” Harris said. “We didn’t fold, and we had fight until the end.”
Singler, who led all players with 24 points and four assists, wasn’t having it. He drove the right side of the lane twice for layups and added a fast break basket on a pass from Nolan Smith as Duke scored 17 of the next 21 points to break the game open.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski credited freshman guard Tyler Thornton and junior forward Miles Plumlee for helping deliver the win. Smith, the ACC’s scoring leader, wasn’t quite himself after banging up his knee in the win against N.C. State.
Smith scored 19 points, but shot 6-for-22 from the field. Thornton played 14 of his 22 minutes in the second half and took over the responsibility of guarding Harris as he brought the ball up the floor for Wake Forest.
Plumlee added eight points and solid defense in 19 minutes. And Kelly, who played a career-best 31 minutes, has never been better.
“I think he’s become more aggressive and ready to take his shot, which we’ve wanted the whole time, especially in the last week or so,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s a really good shooter, and he should be ready to shoot and take it.”
Krzyzewski said the next step for Kelly as opponents gain respect for his perimeter shot is to create driving opportunities for himself with shot fakes.
Like Kelly, Wake Forest made progress Saturday. The Deacons had lost 94-65 at Virginia Tech and 74-39 at Georgia Tech in their last two games, but had their best performance in weeks behind Travis McKie (12 points) and Harris (11 points, three assists).
“We had better fight tonight than we had the last couple games,” McKie said. “We just hit a wall.”
Photo: Duke's Ryan Kelly (34) is fouled as he drives to the basket by Wake Forest's Carson Desrosiers (33). CHUCK LIDDY - email@example.com