Mason Plumlee was dominant on the offensive end in Duke's win over Wake Forest. Credit: CHUCK LIDDY
Back at home after a less-than-thrilling drive across I-40 late last night. With that experience in the books, time to look back at Duke’s 75-70 win over Wake Forest :
***I got a text from a friend last night: “Didn’t see that game, should I be worried about this team?” The short answer is no, but here are three main reasons why:
*Wake Forest is better—at least at home.
“A young team loves being at home in its own gym,” said Wake Forest senior C.J. Harris when asked about the discrepancy between the team’s play at home and on the road.
The Demon Deacons came out strong, hitting 10 of their first 14 shots (71.4 percent) and building a 27-22 lead with 8:57 left in the first half. Wake Forest employed some slick passing, recording assists on its first four baskets and six on its first 10 makes. Wake Forest also picked up the pace by starting three guards instead of three forwards (Madison Jones in place of Arnaud William Adala Moto).
“They started a different lineup to get more speed, and they really pushed the ball down on us,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game. “I thought it knocked us back early. We adjusted a little bit in the first half and were able to hang in there to be tied at halftime.”
The difference in the second half, according to Krzyzewski, was better defense, as the Blue Devils got back down to the defensive end quicker and played better defense off of ball screens. After shooting 54.2 percent in the opening half, the Demon Deacons cooled and were held to 42.9 percent in the second.
But make no mistake—Wake Forest is a much improved team at home, thanks in large part to better shooting. The Demon Deacons shoot 46.9 percent from the field at home and 38.2 percent on the road.
“They had a lot of lay-ups they missed, a lot of easy ones,” Mason Plumlee said about the game in Cameron. “We realized that watching film going into this game.”
It’s all about being comfortable, especially when you're young.
*Plumlee returned to his nonconference form
Duke set a new season-low for 3-point field goal percentage by shooting just 2-of-14 (14.3 percent) behind the arc. That was the Wake Forest game plan—to take away the 3—and, save for one crucial exception from Seth Curry, it worked. (as noted in the game story , Curry hit a 3 to break a 66-66 tie).
Traditional Duke teams, with their bevy of jump shooters, would have lost that game. But this Duke team won, thanks in large part to Plumlee. The senior set a new career-high with 32 points, and, for the second game in a row, he was efficient with his shots, hitting on 12 of his 15 attempts.
“There is no player who is more important to his team,” Krzyzewski said of Plumlee. “There is no substitute for him.”
*Finally, not to belabor the obvious, but Duke is still finding its way without Ryan Kelly, who remains out indefinitely. The Blue Devils are now 3-2 without him and have strung two solid wins together with victories over Maryland and at Wake Forest. Give the team time to keep finding its way, and then come talk to me in March and see if there is any cause for concern.
***Plumlee picked up his third foul early in the second half, as he was whistled on the offensive end of the floor with 18:33 left in the game. His fourth didn’t come until there was 4:02 left on the clock, but he stayed in and was able to finish the rest of the game without drawing his fifth. Part of that was due to him backing off on defense, even if it didn’t feel quite right.
“I felt like a sissy sometimes,” he said with a laugh. “Coaches would like me to play better defense in foul trouble. I probably shouldn’t have been that soft in there, but I just wanted to stay on the floor.”
Plumlee played 19 of the 20 minutes in the second half. And, while he may have felt like a sissy, Krzyzewski disagreed (publicly, at least).
“Being able to not get his fifth foul and be smart enough in those situations was really huge,” Krzyzewski said. “Discipline is a real good thing, and he had it tonight.”
***Duke moved to 4-0 in games that are within one possession with three minutes remaining in the game. The previous three wins came over Kentucky (75-68), Louisville (76-71) and Ohio State (73-68).
***The Demon Deacons recorded more turnovers (17) than assists (14). Only two Duke opponents have done the reverse and recorded more assists than turnovers: Temple and N.C. State (two other opponents, Kentucky and Minnesota, recorded an equal number of each).