In mid-January 2009, Wake Forest defeated No. 3 North Carolina and No. 10 Clemson to run their record to 16-0. The Deacons were ranked No. 1 in the AP poll for a week before a loss to Virginia Tech. On January 28 that year, Wake scored at the buzzer to defeat Duke 70-68 in Winston-Salem. It wasn't viewed as much of an upset.
That was only two years ago but it seems like a lifetime for the beleaguered Wake Forest program. Dino Gaudio was fired after last season, leaving with a 61-31 mark in three seasons. He was replaced by Jeff Bzdelik, an experienced NBA and college head coach but one with only middling success at Colorado, his last stop before Winston-Salem.
Perhaps a more important loss than Gaudio were the departures of Jeff Teague, James Johnson, Al-Farouq Aminu and Ish Smith, all plying their trade in the NBA. Wake had a couple of mediocre recruiting classes, attrition and some injuries. There may be some future NBA players on this season's Wake Forest team but they likely are freshmen, thrown into the deep end of the pool to see if they could swim.
Wake hopefully reached rock bottom Wednesday night, a 74-39 loss at Georgia Tech that sent writers frantically searching for synonyms for "awful."
Duke went back to Joel Coliseum today, their first visit back since that 2009 setback. Duke's 83-59 win looks like something you would have predicted earlier Saturday. But like last Saturday's 76-60 win over Virginia, the final score didn't tell the whole story.
So, give Bzdelik and his youngsters some credit. They came out fiery and feisty, leading Duke for good portions of a first half, once by as much as five points, the last time at 19-18.
Duke surged to a 41-32 halftime lead but Wake closed to four early in the second half before the inevitable happened and Duke's superior talent wore down the Deacons.
Duke's game could reasonably be described as "methodical" or "workmanlike." Nolan Smith couldn't buy a basket for much of the game, Wake competed on the boards (NC State outrebounded Wake by 30 a couple of weeks ago), and made some open 3s. Wake hung around long enough to cause some discomfort amongst the Duke faithful but it never really felt like a game they could actually win.
Duke won last year's NCAA title with three scorers who were going to give you points game after game. Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler returned from that trio and Kyrie Irving seemed poised to take Jon Scheyer's place. But since Irving's toe injury, Duke has struggled to find a consistent third scorer. Andre Dawkins has a 28-point game, Mason Plumlee a 14-point game (25 against Marquette, with Irving still healthy) and Curry a 15-point game.
Today it was Ryan Kelly's chance to join the club. The sophomore from Raleigh has impressed observers with his basketball IQ, defensive instincts and consistent effort. But his offense has been of the target-of-opportunity variety. But with Smith struggling early and Curry and Dawkins never finding their shot, Duke needed other options. Kelly delivered them, scoring inside and outside, off the bounce and off the glass. He scored seven straight Duke points over a period of two minutes in the first half, helping Duke extend a shaky lead to seven.
Kelly's career-high 20 points makes him the sixth Duke player to have at least 20 points in a game this season. Duke had four all of last season.
Miles Plumlee also continued his resurgence. He keyed a late-first half run with an emphatic dunk in transition, followed by an equally emphatic block of an attempted Melvin Tabb dunk. Miles ended with eight points and three rebounds, a stark contrast to last week's MIA stat lines.
Brother Mason added ten rebounds and zero points. He now has 66 rebounds in Duke's six ACC games but only 17 points. When he learns how to finish at the rim and make a foul shot or two, he's going to be downright dangerous.
Singler and Smith ended with a combined 43 points, 24 by Singler. Singler again demonstrated his uncanny ability to pile up stats without highlight-reel plays. He sometimes seems to be playing under the radar but two points is two points, whether it makes Sports Center or not, especially when you need them.
Singler ended Wake's last serious run with a jumper, a contested lay-up, another jumper and a 3. Suddenly 44-40 became 53-42 and Wake was deflated, although they revived enough for a little late pushing and shoving, long after the outcome had been decided.
Duke has now won three straight against Wake Forest, eight of the last ten. Duke is 158-77 in the most-played series in the ACC.
Ryan Kelly didn't miss a field goal, this week, making 10-10, 6-6 on 3s. He did, however, miss one of his six foul shots. Kelly added 14 rebounds in Duke's two road wins.
Mason Plumlee has led Duke in rebounding 12 of their last 16 games.
Duke is 18-1 for the 11th time in school history.
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