Win over Wake Forest shows Duke’s growth as UNC looms

In the aftermath, Jon Scheyer and Steve Forbes were in agreement on many things. That Duke’s guards were better. That Dereck Lively continues to impact games without scoring. That Wake Forest does things on offense to ask questions opposing defenses don’t want to answer.

But above all, this: While Wake Forest continues fighting through the toughest part of its schedule, Duke has taken huge strides since the Demon Deacons won in Winston-Salem early in the ACC schedule.

“It’s amazing how different we are than that time, when we played Wake,” Scheyer said. “Obviously they’re a lot better too, but for us we’ve grown a lot.”

“That’s not the same team we played in December,” Forbes said. “They’ve grown up a lot.”

The road has remained unkind to Duke, Saturday’s double-up thumping of Georgia Tech aside, although every streak has to start somewhere. Still, the Blue Devils are starting to look more comfortable at home, where they remain undefeated but not always drama-free. Tuesday fit that pattern, a 75-73 win that looked comfortable until the Deacons made a late surge and demanded everything Duke had.

Duke came back from what looked like certain disaster against Pittsburgh in the second half and held on with blood and sweat to beat Miami, neither game ever feeling totally safe or secure. Tuesday looked safe and secure until Duke’s offense went stagnant and the Deacons came roaring back to threaten in the final minute, even if Tyree Appleby’s buzzer 3-pointer burnished a final score that wasn’t really that close.

But they were all wins, nonetheless.

Things have rarely come easy for Duke this season, but they’re starting to come easier, even with Dariq Whitehead still out. Everyone’s been waiting for Duke to turn a corner. Maybe the Blue Devils already did, when no one was looking. That one-point loss at Virginia Tech — which easily might have gone the other way if Darius Maddox’s celebratory throat punch to Kyle Filipowski had been penalized — is going to look pretty good by the end of the season the way the Hokies are playing, Tuesday’s loss at Miami notwithstanding. (VT shot 57 percent … and lost.)

So: The timing may actually be pretty good for Duke to host North Carolina for the first time since that game, which despite the italics could still mean either of those games. Several of the faces will be different on the Duke side and very few on the UNC side, and what happened last year might not be foremost in their minds, it will be for everyone else.

“Obviously it’s definitely some extra juice, but I just want to come out there and get the win,” Roach said. “I don’t worry too much about them and about the crowd, what’s happening around us, just kind of focus on ourselves.”

Wake Forest, meanwhile, is undergoing a stiff reality check. The Demon Deacons were cruising along, with wins over Duke and Virginia Tech and Clemson to their credit, when they ran into a run of tough games that asked questions Wake couldn’t answer. Virginia, at Pittsburgh, N.C. State, at Duke. Those are rough seas, and the Deacons almost kept their heads above water, losing the last three by a combined six points.

Then again, Wake Forest’s not going to beat anybody when Andrew Carr and Damari Monsanto are a combined 4-for-22 from long range, as good as Appleby is, and was Tuesday, playing the role of the headband-wearing-transfer-who-becomes-a-high-scoring-star at Wake.

Relief may arrive shortly in the form of a trip to South Bend, but this was the time for Wake Forest to pick up the wins it needed to move into NCAA tournament contention and instead … not. Virginia Tech may be the ACC’s best hope for a seventh bid now (assuming Clemson, which lost at Boston College on Tuesday, doesn’t implode) because Wake’s going to need something approaching a miracle now.

To come so close again on Tuesday, in a place where Wake Forest hasn’t won since 1997 – when Roy Williams was coaching at Kansas and Forbes was a junior-college coach with at least some hair, his words on both, 24 games ago – makes it tough to balance the progress of being in these fights with the disappointment of losing them.

“We’ve been changing a lot of this narrative in the last year and a half,” Forbes said. “Let’s just keep changing it. Along the way, This is a Quad 1 opportunity, right? We’ve got some more coming. Hey, Virginia Tech, everybody wrote them off last year and they ran through the ACC tournament. A lot of ball left to play, man. But it hurts, yeah, it hurts. It hurts.”

Duke’s about to go through what Wake just went through, with trips to Miami and Virginia after the UNC game, but the Blue Devils are getting better, and just in time. So is Wake Forest, even if it’s a little harder to tell at the moment.

Never miss a Luke DeCock column. Sign up at to have them delivered directly to your email inbox as soon as they post.

Luke DeCock’s Latest: Never miss a column on the Canes, ACC or other Triangle sports

Related stories from Charlotte Observer

Sports columnist Luke DeCock joined The News & Observer in 2000 and has covered six Final Fours, the Summer Olympics, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He is the current president of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, was the 2020 winner of the National Headliner Award as the country’s top sports columnist and has twice been named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.

Source link

Leave a Comment