With just eight scholarship players – and almost as many banged up ankles – Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has ditched the cliche and told his players to bring their egos with them to the floor.
It worked Wednesday night against Wake Forest, as Duke dealt the Deacons a 94-51 beatdown. It was Wake Forest’s third-most lopsided loss ever and the worst since 1945.
“Kind of a simple game to talk about,” Wake Forest coach Danny Manning said. “Duke came out with a lot of energy and a lot of effort and played exceptionally well, and we had a very disappointing showing.”
And the No. 3 Blue Devils (27-3, 14-3 ACC) cruised to victory without major contributions from their two hottest offensive players of late, Jahlil Okafor and Quinn Cook. Okafor drew two early fouls and was able to rest much of the second half, and he finished with just two attempts from the field and six points – his first game not in double figures. Cook, meanwhile, finished with 13 points on senior night.
Instead, it was Matt Jones and Grayson Allen carrying the scoring load against Wake Forest (13-17, 5-12). Allen eclipsed his career high in the first half, with 19 points in nine minutes, and the freshman finished with 27 points. Matt Jones, a sophomore, added 17 points of his own.
“We have guys with a lot of fire,” Matt Jones said. “Coach tells everyone to bring their egos. We’re all good players.”
Yes, Jones said, life is easier, offensively at least, for the rest of the Blue Devils when Okafor is scoring 30 points, like he did to carry the team to an overtime win at Virginia Tech last week. But it’s not necessary – that’s Krzyzewski’s point about the egos.
It was as ugly as it appeared for the Deacons (13-17, 5-12 ACC), as they had more turnovers (16) than points in the first 20 minutes, trailing 52-15 at the half. There was a 19-0 run for Duke and a 12-0 start to the game. Wake Forest’s first eight possessions went as follows: turnover, miss, turnover, charge, miss, miss, miss, (miss both free-throw attempts as a result of a flagrant foul on Okafor), turnover.
The first half ended in fitting fashion, too: Tyus Jones heaved up a 25-foot prayer at the buzzer – and it swished in as he was fouled by Madison Jones. Tyus made the free throw with to complete the four-point play, giving the Blue Devils an insurmountable 52-15 lead after 20 minutes. Even if the Blue Devils had gone scoreless in the second half, they still would have outscored the Deacons.
It was quite different than the teams’ first meeting on the season, the second game of the ACC season in Winston-Salem. That was the first time Duke was tested late in a game, and the Blue Devils left with a 73-65 win.
“As a team, coming in, we knew we owed Wake Forest,” Matt Jones said. “We didn’t play the way we wanted to down there. We just wanted to continue to show people that we could play defense and continue to get better. Obviously, we can’t get better in practice because of the numbers, so we try to use games and workouts to our advantage.”
The Blue Devils’ depth issues continued to grow Wednesday, as both Justise Winslow and Amile Jefferson had to leave the game with ankle issues. Both returned, but that does make it five of eight scholarship players who have turned an ankle in the past month – Okafor, Cook, Allen, Jefferson, and Winslow.
“The good thing is ankles are better than knees, so let’s hope that it works out that way,” Krzyzewski said.
Otherwise those who remain may need to find bigger egos to fill the void.