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Duke Beats Back Wake Forest, 90-70

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Duke and Wake Forest put on a remarkably intense game in Cameron Sunday night, but it was marred by an excess of roughness.

Sunday morning we linked to an article from the N&O which asked the question: is the ACC overly physical? After this game, we'd have to say yes. And while we've always refrained from criticizing individual calls by the officials, in this case, due to poor game management, things came close to becoming dangerous. Both Mason Plumlee and Kyle Singler took very hard hits on drives to the basket and either of them could have sustained serious injuries, and indeed, Singler's status is still not clear. But it didn't start there.

As usual with Wake Forest, the leading provocateur was Chas McFarland. The announcers called him "chippy," but here are couple of better choices: jerk and nasty.

There's a reason why anger follows wherever McFarland goes: he generates it. ESPN highlighted the flagrant hit by Gonzaga's forward Elias Harris, but didn't show the things McFarland did to provoke it. Last year, TV showed the Clemson students pummel him when he went into the stands. It seemed outrageous, but as is so often the case with McFarland, things don't happen in a vacuum.

Between Duke and Wake, we expect a tough, hard-fought game. We don't expect to see the sort of junk McFarland pulls. Consider: as a big inside player, how often have you seen Brian Zoubek get seriously irritated by an opponent? Tyler Hansbrough? Deon Thompson? Dexter Strickland? Gani Lawal? Solomon Alabi?

You can keep asking and the answer comes to one: McFarland. Someone needs to deal with him before a game gets completely out of hand.

And the reason we say that is because he's essentially an enabler. The officials let him get away with all kinds of crap and then his teammates start it up too. So while the obvious issues were the hard fouls on Plumlee (universally considered a bad call, including here, but we'd be interested to hear why they actually ruled it that way) and Singler, it was more than that. It was McFarland wrestling Zoubek to the ground, and more pushes, shoves and grabs by Wake than we can remember right now. There were multiple times when Duke players got knocked down or took hard hits, and a lot of them weren't whistled.

To be clear, we understand that it's not a game for timid people, and we know that Duke plays a hard and aggressive style themselves. It's not like Duke doesnt' foul or the officials don't blow calls against Duke, too. But Duke's players are disciplined and don't cross the line. And don't give us Gerald Henderson. We said at the time we thought was an accident, that he was going for the ball when he hit Hansbrough, and the balance of his career proved that he was a good guy and a good sportsman.

Wake, led by McFarland, is playing a brand of basketball that is going to get somebody seriously injured. If Dino Gaudio cares at all about his reputation and that of his team, he'll rein in the excessive nastiness, starting with McFarland. And if he can't, the officials should send a message loud and clear that "chippiness" will not be allowed. As we have learned from our friend the Playcaller, there's a lot more to officiating than meets the eye. Calling 49 fouls isn't necessarily a bad idea, depending on the game and the strategic goal the officials have, but identifying where the trouble comes from would be good as well. This game could have gotten out of hand, and that's on the officials.

Okay, on to the game. Wake Forest tried to shut down Jon Scheyer, just as Duke tried to shut down Ish Smith, and both teams succeeded to an extent as Scheyer was held to nine points on 3-11 from the floor, and committed four turnovers against six assists, while Smith finished with seven points, four assists, three steals and four turnovers before fouling out.

To make matters worse for Duke, Singler started off ice-cold, shooting very poorly in the first half, and Lance Thomas got in early foul trouble and was limited to 14 minutes for the game.

Fortunately, the Plumlees picked this game to demonstrate to the basketball world at large just how effective they can be. They combined for 23 points and 17 boards in the first half and 30 points and 21 rebounds for the game. Miles Plumlee in particular had a breakout game with 19 points and 14 rebounds while Mason finished with 11 and seven. Interestingly enough, Mason had about half of Miles' minutes so they finished more or less the same on a per-minute basis.

In addition, Singler, who started slow from the floor, heated up in the second half and finished with 21 points and fifteen boards of his own.

So between the three, they racked up 51 points and 36 boards which really mitigated the minimal contributions from Zoubek and Thomas, not to mention the far less than normal production from Scheyer.

While Wake did defend Scheyer effectively, Nolan Smith picked up a lot of the backcourt slack, knocking down 20.

Interestingly, this is the second straight game where Duke didn't perform up to normal standards from three point range, hitting just 4-13. Better than last time, but not by much.

Assuming Singler and Plumlee aren't severely bruised or worse, these two games likely represent a hinge in the season, a point of change in how Duke must be defended. Where early on, teams could focus on three perimeter-oriented players, they can no longer afford to ignore the interior game. From here on out, they have to choose their poison. And no matter what they do, when you have four guys capable of double-digit rebounds, that's a game changer, too.

Against Wake, the greatest advance was by Miles Plumlee. He's becoming a fluid and instinctive presence in the post. Alley-oops are becoming common, and he's increasingly grabbing rebounds and fighting to put them back in.

However, don't underestimate what Mason is doing. If seasons have hinges upon which things change, then so do teams, and often, the hinge at Duke is a versatile forward. Plumlee has a real knack for finding open teammates and zipping the ball to them. As his offense grows more aggressive, as he learns how to play against guys like Trevor Booker, Solomon Alabi, and a punk like McFarland, his floor game will become a dominant factor in Duke's success. Lay off of him and he can hit the shot. Crowd him and he can make the pass. Double team a guy like that at your own peril because he'll find Scheyer or Singler or Smith open for a three - or Miles for a slam.

The next couple of games for Duke may be dicey after the floor slams suffered by Singler and Plumlee. Both were obviously in serious pain and while they appeared fine, at least in terms of major injuries, at a minimum they'll have serious bruises. Singler's wrist is apparently pretty sore and there's at least some concern about it. Plumlee says “I’m fine. It was tight, but I feel fine.”

The unfortunate thing about the last two games is that teams probably think that the way to beat Duke is by trying to pound them into submission. If so, the refs will be busy for the rest of the season. But the bright news is that this time, Duke was the tougher team, and that will pay dividends down the road.

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