WINSTON-SALEM Duke weathered a late rally by Wake Forest on Tuesday, but had enough left for a 79-71 victory against the Deacons at Joel Coliseum.
The victory moves the Blue Devils (26-4, 13-2 ACC) into sole possession of first place in the league at least until tonight, when sixth-ranked North Carolina (25-4, 12-2) faces Maryland in Chapel Hill at 7.
A Tar Heels victory against the Terrapins would set up a decisive game Saturday in Cameron Indoor Stadium for the leagues regular-season title and the top seed in next weeks ACC tournament in Atlanta.
The Blue Devils victory also keeps Dukes hopes alive for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Deacons (13-16, 4-11) finish their regular season Saturday at Georgia Tech.
Duke led by 23 points with 11 minutes, 45 seconds remaining and seemed to be cruising to a predictably easy victory. But the Deacons then turned up the pressure on the Blue Devils and cut the lead to six points twice in the final minutes. That was as close as Wake Forest could come, however.
Duke got 23 points from forward Ryan Kelly and 15 from guard Seth Curry. Miles Plumlee had 11 rebounds for Duke, which had a 38-29 edge on the Deacons on the boards.
The Blue Devils made 10-of-20 3-point attempts, better than the 45.3 percent they shot overall. Wake Forest got 18 apiece from Nikita Mescheriakov and Tony Chennault.
The Blue Devils steadily pulled away from the Deacons in the first half. With Kelly and Curry both scoring nine points, Duke led by as many as 13 points with 3 minutes, 12 seconds left in the half. Wake Forest, in the meantime, didnt get much production from anybody except for Mescheriakov, who scored 13, and guard C.J. Harris, who had seven.
Duke took control quickly, going ahead 11-6 early, then going on a 12-0 run shortly thereafter that pushed the lead to 23-12. The Deacons responded briefly scoring six straight of their own but Duke kept the lead in double figures for most of what was left of the first half.
The second half started the same way for Wake Forest badly. Deacons coach Jeff Bzdelik called two quick timeouts as Duke outscored his team 7-3 before the second half was two minutes old.