As we suggested in our preview, Wake Forest has some talent and the capacity to cause some trouble. but in the end, their youth and their issues were too much to overcome as Duke rolled to an 83-59 win.
The Deacons took the lead in the first half minute and held it until Duke pulled things together and took it backÂ permanently at 21-19.
That was at the 10:49 mark; Wake Forest would not score another basket until just 3:52 was left in the second half.
Ultimately, though the talent on these teams is not as far apart as you might think based on their records, Duke's toughness, particularly on defense, separated them.
But it wasn't just on defense. In a game which saw Nolan Smith struggle on offense, Duke got tremendous contributions from other players, particularly Ryan Kelly.
In a star turn, Kelly finished 6-6 from the floor and finished with 20 points. Although physically and facially he bears a passing resemblance to former Celtic great Kevin McHale, his offense is much more perimeter oriented. But like McHale, he is deceptively clever.Â He gets his hands on a lot of balls, blocks shots and has an ability to anticipate where the opposing offense is going.
Duke also got solid performances from reserves Tyler Thornton and Miles Plumlee. Thornton has become an outstanding defensive spark and a solid backup at point.Â He was a big part of why Wake coughed the ball up 17 times.
And after what may have been a crisis of confidence earlier, Plumlee has surged lately.Â Like Kelly, he is showing a lot of smarts on defense and a certain nastiness all around.Â His massive dunk and the intimidating block which soon followed were hard blows to overcome.Â Eight points may not sound like a lot, but his play and his energy were key.
Brother Mason continues to rebound well -- he grabbed double figure boards again with 10 -- but managed just one point.Â It's hard to understand the dichotomy in his game, but he'll come around eventually. Unlike Brian Zoubek, who played brilliantly within his physical limitations, Plumlee can do whatever he wants on the court. When he has the confidence to attack the basket, he will be a top-five pick.
At the points in the game when Wake threatened, Duke mostly turned to Kyle Singler and the senior ate the Deacons alive.
It wasn't a perfect effort by Duke, but here's the important thing: multiple players are stepping up and Duke does not have to relyÂ as heavily on Singler and Smith as they have previously. In recent games, Andre Dawkins, Seth Curry, both Plumlees and Tyler Thornton have stepped up. That's very promising.
And speaking of promising, we hope that Wake Forest fans will not give up. Clearly it's been a tough season. Between the coaching change, the loss of Tony Woods, the injury to Tony Chennault, and perhaps chemistry, Wake has struggled.
However, while it may not be in time time for this season, the potential is there for an outstanding team. Look at the talent: Ari Stewart -- the guy can play. Travis McKie is for real.Â Carson Desrosiers has a ton of potential. Chennault has a lot to offer at the point.Â J.T. Terrell needs to learn toÂ share the ball better, but the guy can score.Â We haven't seen a lot yet of Melvin Tabb, but he has potential too.Â And while Ty Walker is a shotblocking specialist, much to Jeff Bzdelik's frustration, he can carve out a role as well.
The question then perhaps revolves around Bzdelik's coaching.Â Is the criticism fair?
It depends. We're not sure it's fair to decide on the basis of one season although there appears to be a bit of a lynch mob mentality.
All things considered, he deserves another season at least to work through everything.Â Our bet is that by next year, Wake Forest will be a radically different team and much improved.
This season however, Wake Forest may be as weak as they've been since the days of Bob Staack.
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