Duke basketball analysis Wake Forest loss

Duke’s Jeremy Roach drives between Wake Forest’s Bobi Klintman and Andrew Carr during the first half of a men’s basketball game on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022, at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Duke’s Jeremy Roach drives between Wake Forest’s Bobi Klintman and Andrew Carr during the first half of a men’s basketball game on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022, at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, N.C.


Because two players from its usual nine-man rotation weren’t available Tuesday night, No. 14 Duke faced a more difficult task against Wake Forest.

It’s in those circumstances, though, a team needs its best players to be its best players to help stabilize play.

That didn’t happen for the Blue Devils and they returned home from Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum having absorbed an 81-70 loss to the Demon Deacons.

Freshmen Dariq Whitehead and Dereck Lively being unavailable left Duke a lesser team. But Lively and Whitehead, despite preseason projections having them as NBA Draft lottery picks next summer, haven’t been Duke’s best players this season as both sustained preseason injuries that slowed their progress.

Junior guard Jeremy Roach and freshman center Kyle Filipowski, the only two Blue Devils with double-figure scoring averages this season, qualified as Duke’s top players through the season’s first 12 games.

Yet each player scored just nine points apiece against Wake Forest. Together, they made just 7 of 21 shots, including 1 of 10 3-pointers. They each committed five turnovers.

In a league road game, with a team facing adversity due to illness, those kinds of performances aren’t going to cut it.

Duke (10-3, 1-1 ACC) needed more from its best players, but got less instead.

Roach, the team’s lone captain and only returning starter from last season’s Final Four team that also won the ACC regular-season championship, is counted upon for scoring, ball-handling defense and, just as important, steady leadership.

Duke coach Jon Scheyer considers Roach among the best guards in the country. Of late, he’d been showing that, twice topping the 20-point plateau to push his season scoring average to 13.1 points per game.

He played three games, including leading Duke to win an 81-72 win over Ohio State and a 74-62 win over Iowa, while in pain from a toe injury sustained in late November. Because of that, Scheyer gave him a day off on Dec. 10, Duke’s last game prior to Tuesday night, when the Blue Devils beat Maryland-Eastern Shore, 82-55.

So the game at Wake Forest was Roach’s first in two weeks. His veteran status was a big reason why he didn’t play on Dec. 10. The idea being, he knows what he’s doing so give him a game off to get that toe healthy.

It appeared to work as Scheyer and the team’s medical staff declared Roach ready to return to play at Wake Forest.

But Roach didn’t distinguish himself against the Demon Deacons. He took Duke’s first shot of the game, missing a 3-pointer 23 seconds after the opening tip. He missed another four minutes later.

While Roach went scoreless in the first half, Wake Forest took a 39-30 halftime lead.

He finally scored his points with 16:13 remaining in the game, a driving layup that cut Duke’s deficit to 10 points, but committed a turnover on Duke’s next possession.

It was that kind of night for Roach.

Filipowski entered the game averaging a team-best 14.2 points per game and having reached double figures in all 12 Duke games this season. He’s played his way into a likely first-round draft grade from NBA scouts for next summer’s draft by recording six double-doubles.

That strong play wasn’t on display at Wake Forest, however, as Filipowski hit only 4 of 14 shots, missing all six of his 3-pointers. Averaging 9.2 rebounds, he finished with six. He committed four fouls and, for one of the rare times this season, looked young.

So Duke, coming off a nine-day break from games, doesn’t play again for another 10 days.

When the Blue Devils reconvene after the Christmas holiday, they’ll prepare for ACC games that will come rapid fire: Dec. 31 against Florida State, Jan. 4 at Clemson and Jan. 7 at Boston College.

By then, Scheyer said Tuesday night, the medical staff is confident Lively and Whitehead will be over the illness that sidelined them against Wake Forest and the Blue Devils will be on their way back to a full roster.

But that’s only part of the solution for Duke. The room Lively and Whitehead have for growth in their games means the Blue Devils can find an even higher level of play than they’ve shown at any time this season.

But that’s only if the top players, like Roach and Filipowski, show up at their anticipated level regularly. For the most part this season, they’ve done it.

On Tuesday night, when Duke really, really needed them, they picked the same game to have off nights.

Even Jaylen Blakes scoring 17 points and Ryan Young contributing 10 points and nine rebounds couldn’t save Duke.

Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. He placed second in both beat writing and breaking news in the 2019 Associated Press Sports Editors national contest. Previously, Steve worked for The State (Columbia, SC), Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, S.C.), The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.), Charlotte Observer and Hickory (NC) Daily Record covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly. He’s won numerous state-level press association awards. Steve graduated from Illinois State University in 1989.

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