Every win is a good win, but some are better than others, and it's hard to think of a more satisfying win for Duke lately than what the Blue Devils did in Winston-Salem Wednesday.
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Because this is a game that Duke could have easily lost. Duke faced a lot of adversity in this game, not least of all with both Matt Jones and Grayson Allen picking up fourth fouls early in the second half (and one right after the other). We'll come back to that in a minute.
Duke could have easily buckled. But before the fouls got so serious, Devin Thomas fouled Marshall Plumlee on a drive. Then apparently he said something to the officials, who then cleared the lane before Plumlee's foul shots and hit Thomas with a technical.
Just like that, after a stellar first half - he was outstanding - Thomas had fouls #2 and #3 and a seat on the bench.
Once again, his inability to control his emotions had cost his team, and it's a shame. Plumlee, by contrast, had perhaps his best game at Duke and certainly his best game since Kentucky.
In a game where Duke needed offense and leadership, Plumlee really, really stepped up.
Back to the fouls.
Jones picked up his fourth at the 16:30 mark of the second half, then Allen picked up his third and fourth less than 30 seconds later.
Given Duke's depth, or lack of depth actually, it looked catastrophic.
But it wasn't.
Plumlee dominated Wake inside and Luke Kennard had perhaps his best overall game at Duke to date.
Kennard came to Duke with a reputation as great shooter, and even though he hasn't really shown it consistently, no one seriously doubts that he can shoot. But what a lot of people may not have realized is just what a gamer he is.
So far Kennard has hit 41.4% which isn't awful but certainly isn't elite. And from three point range he's at a 29.2% clip, which is well below what his talent level would suggest.
But he's proven to be a good ballhandler and a crafty penetrator. And when he does penetrate, he gets to the line. And the kid has been absolute death from the line: on the season, Kennard is 44-48 for 91.5%.
If you're curious, he missed one against Utah State (4-5), one against Utah (12-13), one against Long Beach (4-5) and one against BC (2-3).
Duke had 27 attempts against Wake Forest and nine of those were Kennard's. And he made all of them.
Duke shot 25-27. Brandon Ingram and Allen each had one of the misses.
Wake had 20 attempts and hit 12.
Just as impressively as the fouls, Duke only had six turnovers.
Wake pushed Duke at times and got within two on a couple of occasions, but couldn't stop Duke's penetration. If it wasn't Kennard it was Plumlee. If it wasn't Plumlee it was Allen or Derryck Thornton, who had a quiet but mostly solid game including a deflating jumper with 8:54 when Wake was threatening.
He's still got a lot of room to improve, particularly about when to be aggressive - he tends to charge the lane at the wrong time or occasionally to take a shot he might wish he had back - but he's come a long way.
The great thing about this game was first that Duke had to count on guys stepping up and those guys did. And second, with the exception of Chase Jeter and Antonio Vrancovic, who won't be a factor this year, the freshmen are now fully incorporated.
So yes, Duke is going to be thin, but the Blue Devils have adapted well to circumstances. And when Kennard's jump shot clicks, guarding this team is going to be very, very difficult.
- Luke Kennard is answer to Duke's depth issues in win at Wake Forest
- Duke men's basketball overcomes foul trouble to down Wake Forest behind Plumlee's career night
- Plumlee, Allen Key Duke's 91-75 Win Over Wake Forest
- Duke overcomes foul trouble to down Wake Forest, 91-75
- Duke wins second conference game over Wake Forest 91-75
- Ed Hardin: Plumlee stands tall for Blue Devils
- Analysis: Wake Forest misses Thomas at a key time in loss to Duke
- Stephen Schramm column: Hamstrung by fouls, Blue Devils find new ways to win at Wake Forest
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- Season Stats (PDF)