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Duke 73 Wake Forest 65

Wake Forest showed a lot of heart but Duke had a little bit more.

The game against Wake Forest nearly slipped away before Quinn Cook and his backcourt mates snatched it back.
The game against Wake Forest nearly slipped away before Quinn Cook and his backcourt mates snatched it back.
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Wake Forest's first game this season was about seven weeks ago on November 14th; the Deacs played Asheville and won, 80-69. The third and fourth games came against Arkansas and Iona, and Wake lost both, losing to Iona by four and Arkansas by a whopping 30.

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The Deacs lost to Delaware State, at home, by seven and on the road to State by 13.

On December 20th, Wake lost on the road to Florida 63-50.

Maybe it was the holidays and some concentrated practices, and maybe Danny Manning's a terrific teacher. Whatever it is, Wake's kicked its game up a couple of gears.

Richmond was a big win and Princeton presents some challenges on style any season (Richmond actually runs a variation of the Princeton offense).

Who in the world though thought that this Wake Forest team would be right in it with Louisville and then Duke?

That's exactly what's happened though: if things had gone just a bit differently, the Demon Deacons could have won both games.

As it happens, the same thing happened in both: the more talented, more experienced team took over in winning time and put the Deacs away.

But neither game was a cakewalk.

Against Duke, Wake took the lead, 56-55, with 5:55 left.

The game went back and forth until Duke built a small cushion at 64-59 with 3:19 left.

But make no mistake: a bit more maturity, a bit more confidence, and Wake is going to win games like this.

It's just January, but Manning appears to be putting together a tremendous turnaround job.

And we're not talking about winning and losing - remember Wake did finish with a winning record last year - we're talking about how this team plays.

It plays with a lot of heart and passion.

Wake has played the #5 and #2 teams in the country this week and given them both tremendous games.

Against Duke, the Deacons did two remarkable things: they neutralized Jahlil Okafor for much of the game (he finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds, but a lot of it came late) and also pushed Duke into numerous turnovers.

Duke had 14 turnovers; Okafor had five of those personally. As Mike Gminski pointed out during the broadcast, Okafor's hands are huge, but he's still better off using them both.

Wake obviously watched a lot of film and was aware of his habit of waving the ball with one hand. When he did, there was generally a Deac in the vicinity to harass him.

Fortunately for Duke, Justise Winslow picked up the slack.

Winslow had his best scoring night in college, hitting for 20. He hit threes, he drove, he had second shots. As it turned out, Wake Forest didn't have a great answer for him, and when you double team Okafor, someone will benefit.

When Duke was sloppy with the ball, Coach K turned to his veterans, especially Rasheed Sulaimon.

Sulaimon came off the bench to score 10 points, grab four rebounds and pick up a pair of assists. Matt Jones came in and was also solid, scoring five points, grabbing four boards and providing his usual tough defense - as did Sulaimon. And big man Marshall Plumlee came off the bench to spell Okafor and to also play solid defense.

No matter what Duke did, though, Wake Forest hung around.

When Wake tied it 55-all, Quinn Cook got a three point play, then followed that with a steal. Tyus Jones found Matt Jones for a quick layup.

After a Jahlil Okafor three, Matt Jones hit a huge three to put Duke up by seven.

With Duke up by five, Tyus Jones made a three point play, giving Duke an eight point lead.

And from there, Cook brought his young teammates home.

He made a jumper with :54 left and then four free throws to give him six points in the last :45 seconds.

The freshmen are great, but it's nice to have a senior around, too.

In a lot of ways, this was a really key game for Duke. The Devils have been winning, but honestly haven't played as well lately.

Duke was magnificent against Wisconsin, beat Elon but won by only 13, took UConn, but the Huskies haven't been that impressive since, got a much better than expected game than expected from Toledo, whipped Wofford and then got tough games from BC and Wake Forest.

Part of that, of course, is that BC and Wake Forest are improving. Still, Duke's defense has been spotty at times and the offense has also sputtered.

It's fairly normal really. Between the holidays and exams, there's a big disruption. It takes a while to settle back into a routine, and Duke was playing at a very high level earlier.

This game is a big part of that. Wake gave Duke fits for most of it and the Devils were not at their best. Yet Duke got the win, and in a hostile environment and against a team which was playing aggressively and well.

The ACC has always been tough and while everyone expects that the top tier will dominate, this week shows that, top to bottom, the conference is going to be brutal.

For instance, on Thursday night before the Duke game,  State took it right to Virginia until the Cavs took control late.

Duke visits State on Sunday, and you can reasonably expect more of the same. How Duke answers games like this - and how Duke handles adversity, most importantly when teams climb all over Okafor - will determine how the rest of the season plays out.