DURHAM – With seven freshmen and three sophomores on the roster, Wake Forest’s hope to once again return to the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference lies in the future.
The Demon Deacons just have to go through the maturing part first, and it officially began Saturday.
Wake Forest faced its stiffest road test of the season – No. 1 Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium – and performed as expected. The final result never was in jeopardy as the Blue Devils rolled, 80-62.
Even though many are questioning which way the Demon Deacons are headed, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski offered praise to the young team.
“I didn’t think they were a down group (Saturday),” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I thought they were up. They played hard. They played like a winning team. I thought we beat a winning team (Saturday). We didn’t beat any downtrodden team.”
In a strange game for Duke (14-0, 1-0 ACC), Ryan Kelly scored 22 points in 18 minutes but fouled out.
Mason Plumlee didn’t dominate the game by any means, yet still obtained his ninth double-double of the season.
Quinn Cook netted a career-high 14 assists compared to only one turnover but went 0-for-11 from the field.
The Blue Devils uncharacteristically became a jump-shooting team against Wake Forest (7-6, 0-1), yet it still worked.
“We can win in various ways,” Cook said. “We can win by shooting 3s, we can win giving it to Mason, Rasheed (Sulaimon) driving, Seth (Curry) scoring. It says a lot about our team.”
Duke notched 22 assists on 29 field goals and turned over the ball only six times, while Wake Forest was minus-11 in assist-to-turnover margin.
The Demon Deacons took away Plumlee and the Blue Devils’ driving, so Duke went behind the arc, particularly in the first half.
The Blue Devils made 12 field goals in the first half, and nine of them were 3-pointers. Duke consistently found open shooters with an inside-outside attack that left Wake Forest caving to support in the paint, then futilely scrambling back to the perimeter to defend open 3s.
“I think you take the shots that are there,” Krzyzewski said. “... We’ll shoot them. We’re a good shooting team.”
Kelly made five 3-pointers in the first half – three more than Wake Forest’s whole team – on the way to 17 points in the first 20 minutes. Curry, who finished with 22 points, added 14 before the break, and the Blue Devils took a 41-30 lead into halftime.
Kelly went 5-for-6 from behind the arc before fouling out with 7:20 remaining.
“I’ve been pretty confident with my shot,” Kelly said. “Everybody was saying at the beginning of the year I was struggling a little bit. The numbers always end up working themselves out. That’s how I think.”
Kelly said he found himself in bad defensive spots throughout the afternoon which led to his dismissal.
Krzyzewski said Kelly was on the way to a truly special game if he had stayed out of foul trouble.
“He was on his way to a 35-, 40-point game, really,” Krzyzewski said. “We obviously would have kept calling his number. I like doing stuff like that.”
The afternoon wasn’t much better on the other end for the Demon Deacons.
Duke hedged on most of Wake Forest’s screens, neutralizing the driving ability of Wake Forest guards C.J. Harris and Codi Miller-McIntyre.
Travis McKie scored a team-high 22 points for Wake Forest while Harris added 19.
Though the Deacons never challenged the Blue Devils’ control of the game, Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik saw the game as an opportunity to grow.
“We need to execute better under duress,” Bzdelik said. “That will all come. It is an experience for seven freshmen to come into Cameron against the No. 1 team in the country. It is an experience I think will benefit us going forward.”
Duke remains one of four unbeaten schools in Division I, but it is not putting any stock in being undefeated.
Nor are they overwhelmed with being No. 1.
“We’re going to be judged by who we are in March,” Krzyzewski said. “... It’s like Duke being (No.) 1 is old, so we know that. … We’ve been No. 1 11 of the past 16 years. It’s not big news.”
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz@ rmtelegram.com