CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM – As Gerald Henderson and Jon Scheyer left the court in the final minute of No. 9 Duke’s demonstrative victory over No. 8 Wake Forest, they received bear hugs from their coaches for having the offensive games of their careers. The two juniors combined for 65 points (Henderson had a career-high 35, Scheyer a career-high 30), propelling Duke past Wake Forest in an unusually high-scoring shootout at Cameron Indoor.
Wake, who shot 60 percent from the field, battled back from a 22-point deficit in a turnover-ridden first half, and were within two points when Scheyer leaned in and executed a pitch-perfect Reggie Miller flop behind the three point line, resulting in three free throws, and a Duke lead that Wake could never overcome.
It was a “huge play,” Coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game, which he called the team’s biggest at Cameron in three years.
“We just could not stop them, but they couldn’t stop us either,” he said. “It was just one of those old-fashioned ACC games.”
Wake Forest Coach Dino Gaudio thought it was more NBA than ACC: “Looked like the Phoenix Suns,” he said as he left the press room.
Though Duke was dominant in the first half, much of their offense resulted from forced turnovers–16 in that half alone. (In one astonishing stretch, freshman guard Elliot Williams–starting for a second night in a row–stole the ball three times in 40 seconds.) When Wake gained control of the ball, and their inside shots started dropping, in the second half, it seemed like a mere a matter of time before they caught up with Duke, who was limited to perimeter play in their half-court offense.
Yet, even though the Blue Devils played with no clear point guard–Scheyer brought the ball up, but called no plays–Scheyer and Henderson were able to create shots for themselves, and Duke shot 54 percent from the field, an unusually high figure for the jump-shooting team. Duke also did an excellent job of hanging onto the ball, and finished with 6 turnovers to Wake’s 20. (Read Triangle Offense contributor Ryan Campbell’s “Four Factor” preview of the game, which explains why Wake Forest needed the exact opposite to happen.)
It was an important victory for Duke–and, indeed, showed their ability to beat one of college basketball’s toughest opponents, whom they lost to earlier in the season–but it also revealed several weaknesses. Ironically, this was a much stronger game for Duke’s defense than it was their offense. Their 54 percent shooting–which came mostly from pull-up jump shots, to go with fast-break dunks and a few tip-ins–was an anomaly for Duke, who is averaging ten percentage points less this season. On off nights, the shots won’t go in–and in the NCAA tournament, there is no room for an off night.
Meanwhile, Wake’s point-guard Jeff Teague scored 28 points, on 10-for-16 shooting, much of it on inside drives. When it mattered, though, Williams shut down Teague late in the game, and early on he set a strong defensive tone. Though they allowed 91 points–and a 22-point gap to be nearly closed–Duke’s defense forced 20 turnovers, which allowed its offense to get to the basket on fast breaks, something they were powerless to do in their half-court sets. (That said, Scheyer and Henderson managed to get to the free-throw line 25 times, accounting for a third of their combined point total.) Running their offense–which primarily consisted of setting screens behind the three-point line–Duke often looked tentative at best. Too often, a player would bail out the team with an effortless-looking buzzer-beater that won’t always be there.
One final note: Former starting center Brian Zoubek sat all game. In our last post, we wondered if freshman Miles Plumlee would be getting more PT. He logged a paltry 3 minutes, behind Lance Thomas, but he was also the second center off the bench. Notably, Coach K prefered to keep the lineup small tonight, and in one stretch played with no center, a strategy he attributed to the game’s fast pace. Perhaps Plumlee’s numbers will expand as Duke plays games that aren’t in the triple-digits.