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Thoughts On Wake Forest

Duke didn’t match Wake’s intensity and it nearly cost the Blue Devils

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Wake Forest v Duke
 DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 05: Javin DeLaurier #12 and Alex O’Connell #15 of the Duke Blue Devils defend Torry Johnson #4 of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons during the second half of their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on March 05, 2019 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke won 71-70.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

We weren’t entirely shocked that Wake Forest came to play Tuesday night. The Demon Deacons had a fair amount of turmoil over the last few days as A.D. Rod Wellman announced his retirement and Wake Forest simultaneously introduced his replacement, John Currie, a Wake Forest grad, and all parties said the priority is to “fix” basketball.

When you’re 11-17 (now 11-18) and your coach’s career record at your school is 64-90, the most obvious fix is a new coach.

And to us that brought Wake Forest to a fork: either Manning has lost his team a la Steve Alford’s UCLA, or his team would react as sociology tells us it should and turns inward for strength.

Judging by the Duke game, Manning’s players still care about their coach.

We thought that might happen. We just didn’t expect the first part of this to come to pass:

“We wouldn’t expect Duke to be flat but it’s a possibility. And if Duke is flat and Wake plays with the emotions of a team about to lose its coach, well, you would have the classic outlines of a shocking upset, wouldn’t you?”

Well yes, we did.

Fortunately, Wake’s last shot rolled off the rim and if you look at the last few seconds in replay, the ball didn’t leave his hand in time. The game was already over.

But it shouldn't have been that close, as coach Mike Krzyzewski and some of his players acknowledged.

The word “lucky” came up repeatedly and one thing that Duke doesn’t usually do is to leave things to chance.

In the Duke canon, there are games that go by one name or term. The Kentucky Game. Gone in 54 Seconds. The Louisville Comeback.

And critically, the Wagner Game.

Early in his Duke career, Wagner was scheduled as a traditional early season tuneup game and pulled off a shocking upset.

Years later, the coach of that team saw Coach K somewhere and said “you probably don’t remember me but...”

Krzyzewski stopped him and said he certainly did remember him. He was the coach who taught him to respect every opponent and take every game seriously.

And since then, Duke has been very consistent about doing just that.

There have been rare exceptions.

In 1992, Clemson led Duke by 20 in Littlejohn before Duke came back. During Lee Melchionni’s career, Duke played NC A&T and Melchionni came off the bench and woke his team up. And in 2013, Duke played Vermont and the Catamounts very nearly pulled off the all-time stunner in Cameron, losing only because they couldn't get the final shot off in time.

Check out the comments after the game.

Coach K called it an “unacceptable performance...[we] were lucky to win.” He also urged his team to “respect the game more than we did tonight” and that “[w]e played like a team that thought we would just show up and win. That’s how you get beat.”

Rodney Hood: “We didn’t win this game. We kind of deserved to lose the game, and we got lucky.”

Jabari Parker: “Every team is going to face us like we’re the best, because on paper it says that and across our chests it says that. We just have to be prepared to treat teams, every time, to be competitors and be the best that we can be because they’re not going to shy up on us.”

Strikingly similar to what was said after the Wake Forest win.

Basically, Wake Forest has been so bad that people don’t respect them anymore. Well, Duke learned a good lesson last night and nearly a costly one: respect the opponent. Every time.

Duke of course played without Zion Williamson, who is still out with a knee strain following his infamous Nike blowout.

In his absence we’ve seen a different level from RJ Barrett. Pretty much whatever anyone throws at Barrett, he handles well. He manages to score even when double teamed. He has usually rebounded although last night not so much (just four).

And he’s been Kobe-like through illness and difficulty.

Even so, there are things he could work on. Last night he shot 6-14 from the line and had seven turnovers.

People tend to look at stat lines and think well why the hell did you do that? Like these guys are rides at store. Put a coin in and it does what it’s supposed to.

People are people though. We all have fatigue, we have injuries, at certain times doubt creeps in on teams and players. Who knows?

Barrett has been magnificent in a tough situation. The only criticism we’ll offer is one that Red Auerbach made to Bob Cousy in the 1950s, paraphrased: you have to know who you are passing to and what they can do.

As much as we like Javin DeLaurier, he doesn’t have great hands and his offense is limited.

Same for Jack White. He’s a very useful player. Last night he had 10 rebounds and he’s broken his three point shooting slump. He’s a superb team player and leader. But you have to give him the ball at his strengths.

It’s just a question of discretion. There were a couple of times last night when he made poor decisions in a tight game that could have cost Duke the game.

And of course if he had shot 10-14 instead of 6-14 Duke fans wouldn’t been in such agony waiting for the ball to roll off the rim at the end of the game.

Again though these aren’t automatons. Barrett is being asked to carry an extraordinary load and has come through for his team. It’s bound to be exhausting though and that can dent your percentages and lead you to make mistakes.

The truth about this team is that Duke’s four freshmen starters have been very precocious. Their youth tends to show up when things get uncertain.

Tre Jones goes out vs. Syracuse and Duke loses, barely, in overtime.

Zion Williamson goes down against UNC and his team can’t adjust.

Duke goes to Virginia Tech with some fatigue and can’t come through.

And against Wake Forest, perhaps complacency set in. Wake has been mediocre at best and even their fans don’t expect much at this point.

Well not last night. Wake Forest played with urgency, passion and heart. It was great to see as ACC fans because we want everyone to be good and last night, for at least one night, Wake Forest was good enough to beat a Top Five team.

For part of the game, Brandon Childress reminded Duke fans of his father, He Who Must Not Be Named, with a series of impressive shots. At one point, very much like his father, the Crazies were going after him. He hit a three and turned to stare at a particular would-be tormenter. Didn’t say anything, just stared at the kid. But it was enough: I’m a Childress and I just hit a three in Duke’s face. Just like my old man. So shut the hell up.

His father left an impossible legacy to live up to but last night, Brandon nearly did it. His dad probably would have hit the shot that Brandon missed in the closing second and he surely wouldn’t have let his defender get him that unbalanced. Brandon is a bit smaller though so perhaps it’s understandable.

His Wake career hasn’t been nearly as memorable but the kid plays hard and wants to do well. He knows what his father accomplished and at Wake Forest, and around the ACC, its legendary.

It was stuff like this. If you’re too young, please watch it. It’s hilarious. He actually waved for UNC’s Jeff McInnis to get up and guard him after he faked him out of his shoes.

We were hugely impressed by Wake’s heart and tenacity last night. We’re glad Duke won obviously but Wake played hard enough to earn it. It’s good to see the Deacs play at an ACC level again. May it continue.

We just hope Duke can match Wake’s Cameron effort this Saturday in Chapel Hill.

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