ACC: Duke 75, Wake 70
WINSTON-SALEM — Seth Curry wasn’t going to miss every 3-pointer he tossed up. Mason Plumlee wasn’t going to miss very often at all.
Thanks to those two seniors, No. 5 Duke finally has its first road victory.
Plumlee scored a career-high 32 points and Curry added 21 with a tiebreaking 3 that helped the Blue Devils hold off pesky Wake Forest 75-70 on Wednesday night.
Despite hitting a season-low two 3-pointers, the Blue Devils (18-2, 5-2 ACC) shot 52 percent — much of that because of their efficient senior big man — to improve to 1-2 in true road games.
“I don’t know if he’s the best player in the league, but there’s no player who’s more important to his team” than Plumlee, coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “There is no substitute for him, so those kind of guys need to get the ball.”
Freshman big man Devin Thomas had 15 points for the Demon Deacons (10-10, 3-5), who shot 48 percent but were denied their second upset of a nationally ranked state rival in eight nights.
At times, this game turned into a Thomas-vs.-Plumlee showdown, with the two big men trading baskets over — if not through — each other. Plumlee simply made more, finishing 12 of 15 from the field and 8 of 10 from the free-throw line.
“He was making everything today,” Thomas said. “He just got all the moves that you would want as a big man — a quick spin, a right- (and) left-handed hook, athletic. … We wanted to foul him to put him on the line, but he was making his free throws, so it was just a lose-lose situation for us.”
Still, Wake Forest went up 66-65 on Tyler Cavanaugh’s three-point play with 4:02 left that had Joel Coliseum rocking.
And then Duke’s healthy seniors took over.
“You look up there and we’re down one, and it’s go-time,” Plumlee said. “It’s do or die. Guys made big plays. … It was a total team win.”
First, Plumlee tied it at 66 with a free throw with 3:48 to go.
Then, Curry — who had missed his first five 3-point attempts, including two straight open looks a few possessions earlier — knocked down a 3 from the key with just under 3 minutes left to put Duke ahead to stay, 69-66.
“I just missed” the open shots, Curry said. “I just tried to stick with it, and I got another look, so I was able to knock it down.”
Added Krzyzewski: “That’s a sign of a really good player.”
Madison Jones pulled the Demon Deacons to 69-68 on a backdoor layup with 1:40 left, but Wake Forest came up empty on its next two trips downcourt while the Blue Devils pulled away.
Plumlee hit a layup over Thomas with 1:16 left, and Rasheed Sulaimon’s jumper pushed the lead to 73-68 with 27.6 seconds to go.
Plumlee blocked C.J. Harris’ layup with about 20 seconds left, and Quinn Cook and Curry combined to hit two free throws in the final 15.8 seconds to seal it.
Cook finished with 12 points for the Blue Devils, who claimed their seventh straight win in the series and denied the Demon Deacons their biggest win since they knocked off then-No. 1 Duke as a top-five team themselves four years ago.
Harris and Travis McKie each scored 14 points for Wake Forest, which upset then-No. 19 North Carolina State eight nights earlier behind 25 points and 14 rebounds from Thomas.
And seemingly every time Duke threatened to pull away in this one, the Demon Deacons — who trailed 37-7 in their previous game, a 20-point loss at last-place Georgia Tech — found a way to claw back.
Wake Forest twice trailed by eight in the second half but managed to tighten things back up. After Sulaimon put Duke up 52-44 with a free throw with 14:40 left, Thomas keyed a 16-6 run that followed and Harris put the Demon Deacons up 60-58 with a sliding jumper with 8 minutes to go.
Duke played its fifth straight game without 6-foot-11 forward Ryan Kelly. He’s out indefinitely with a right foot injury — and that was a break for a Wake Forest team that he had tormented through the years.
Four of Kelly’s five career 20-point games came against the Demon Deacons, who have allowed a 20-point Duke scorer in 17 of the last 18 meetings.
His primary replacements at power forward — freshman Amile Jefferson and junior Josh Hairston — combined for six rebounds and two points on 1-of-3 shooting.
But Hairston turned in some big hustle plays down the stretch. He blocked Harris’ jumper with the score tied at 66 with roughly 3:15 left, then came up with rebound of Plumlee’s block of Harris in the closing seconds.
“He just gave us a good unit out there for the time that he was in, (and) that’s what he has to do,” Krzyzewski said. “Every play was important tonight. Loose ball. Block. Taking a charge. Getting a defensive board. Those are big.”