WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP)Wake Forest had survived close games this season, even twice winning on a last-second shot. It was enough to have coach Steve Forbes deliver a message that resonated before playing No. 14 Duke.
”Don’t play to survive,” Forbes said. ”Play to win.”
The Demon Deacons responded by taking down the Blue Devils 81-70 on Tuesday night, turning in a confident performance that had them leading nearly the entire game. And it ended with the Demon Deacons (9-4, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) being able to celebrate throughout a final possession with a win well in hand.
Tyree Appleby had 18 points and eight assists to lead Wake Forest, while Cameron Hildreth added 16 points and nine rebounds despite playing through a banged-up wrist that required a mid-game tape job.
”I love winning, I’m a competitor,” Hildreth said. ”So as much pain as I am in, it doesn’t matter. I’m going to keep fighting and do whatever I can to help my team win.”
Wake Forest led 39-30 at halftime, then pushed that margin to 15 points. More impressively, the Demon Deacons never let the Blue Devils – playing short-handed with two top freshmen out – closer than seven after halftime.
That meant repeatedly getting into the paint to put the pressure on Duke. Or avoiding live-play turnovers when the Blue Devils tried some traps to speed up play and force the Demon Deacons into mistakes.
It was a strong response from a team coming off a 24-point loss at Rutgers, with Wake Forest shooting 49.1% behind five double-figure scorers.
Jaylen Blakes scored a career-high 17 points to lead Duke (10-3, 1-1), who never showed the strong-defense, tough-rebounding form that had carried the start of Jon Scheyer’s coaching tenure. Duke shot 44%, but made just 8 of 27 3-pointers (29.6%).
It didn’t help that starting freshman big man Dereck Lively II and rookie wing Dariq Whitehead were out due to non-COVID illnesses. That essentially shrunk Duke’s rotation to seven players who were unable to consistently get stops or keep the Demon Deacons off the glass.
”I thought when we missed some shots, I thought that impacted our defense, and taken aback by it,” Scheyer said. ”And we can’t be that fragile. We need to be tough-minded and defend, which is who we’ve been most of the year.”
By the final seconds, Hildreth was motioning to the crowd for more noise as he let the ball bounce in front of him, while Damari Monsanto started high-fiving fans in courtside seats before the horn had even sounded.
Duke: Blakes’ performance was a silver lining, along with big man Ryan Young (10 points, nine rebounds). Blakes, a 6-foot-2 sophomore, had scored just 21 points all last season and never more than nine in a single game for Duke, but went 6 for 7 from the field with three 3-pointers in this one.
”We have to play like those two guys did tonight,” Scheyer said.
Wake Forest: This was the Demon Deacons’ first win against Duke since a memorable double-overtime win in 2020, before Forbes had taken over. He lost the ACC player of the year in Alondes Williams and a first-round NBA draft pick in Jake LaRavia from a team that nearly made the NCAA Tournament, yet Forbes’ quick retooling has secured a quality win against a Duke team boasting the nation’s top recruiting class.
This is the first time the Blue Devils have lost a third time before January since the 1982-83 season, when Mike Krzyzewski’s third team started 2-4 on the way to an 11-17 record.
HOME AND AWAY
Carrying an eight-game road winning streak from last season, Duke’s only lead Tuesday came at 4-2 for a total of 19 seconds.
Wake Forest has won 12 straight home games dating to last season.
Wake Forest finished with a 37-29 rebounding advantage against a team that ranked fifth nationally in margin (+10.9), a performance Young called ”inexcusable” on the Duke end.
Duke: The Blue Devils are off through the Christmas holiday and return at home against Florida State on Dec. 31.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons also have a lengthy break before hosting Virginia Tech on Dec. 31.
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