WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP)—Ryan Kelly likes to say he thinks he can make every shot he takes. Once again, he was right.
“It’s not going to be every game where I go 6 for 6 … but I’m confident in my shot,” Kelly said. “Every day, come to work, be hungry and good things will happen.”
Kyle Singler scored 24 points and keyed one of the big runs down the stretch, while Nolan Smith shook off a slow start and finished with 19 on 6-of-22 shooting for the Blue Devils (18-1, 5-1 Atlantic Coast Conference).
The league’s highest-ranked team took care of its worst down the stretch, using two big runs to outscore Wake Forest 42-27 in the second half. Duke won its fourth straight and claimed its second victory of the week on an instate rival’s home floor.
“Road wins in this league, if you look it up, man, they’re hard to come by,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
Travis McKie scored 12 points for the Demon Deacons (7-13, 0-5), who had separate droughts of 9 1/2 minutes without a field goal and 7 minutes without any points, and lost their fifth straight and 10th in 12 games.
“Losing is tearing us up, but at the same time, I’m the leader and that’s why I bring up optimism,” first-year coach Jeff Bzdelik said. “I’m very optimistic. I’m very excited about the future. … I’m starting to see moments where you just need to get stronger, more mature, tougher and conjure this kind of energy up every time we step on the court. They’re learning the hard way. I’m learning the hard way.”
C.J. Harris pulled Wake Forest to 44-40 with a 3-pointer with 17 1/2 minutes left. Singler took over after that, reeling off nine consecutive points for Duke to start the 17-4 run that pushed the lead into double figures to stay.
After Smith converted a three-point play to make it 61-44 with 12 1/2 minutes to play, the Demon Deacons didn’t get closer than 11. The senior co-captain and league’s leading scorer later stretched the lead into the 20s during a run of 15 straight points for Duke, hitting a free throw with 5:15 left to make it 72-52.
Mason Plumlee finished with 10 rebounds, his fourth straight game with at least that many. In addition to being perfect on six shots from the field, Kelly was 4 for 4 from the free throw line and hit four 3s for Duke, which beat North Carolina State by 14 three nights earlier in Raleigh. In that game, Kelly hit all four of his shots but was 1 of 2 from the stripe.
“Since ACC play (began), he’s gotten better every game,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s a very reliable player, and he doesn’t get flustered. He knows where he’s supposed to be all the time, and I think he’s become more aggressive and ready to take his shot.”
Harris and Gary Clark added 11 points apiece for the Demon Deacons.
This one had all the makings of a mismatch, with the ACC’s best shooting team—Duke, at 48 percent—seemingly capable of scoring at will against the league’s worst defense; Wake Forest allows its opponents to shoot 44 percent. The reigning national champions lead the league in turnover margin while the Demon Deacons are last—one of 14 of the league’s 21 stat categories in which they rank 10th or worse.
Yet Wake Forest—which was coming off its worst offensive performance in more than 50 years, a 74-39 loss at Georgia Tech—did enough to keep things competitive into the second half before the Blue Devils ultimately took control.
“When you come here, you better be ready,” Krzyzewski said, adding that Wake Forest’s young lineup will “learn that because the tradition is so strong here. We were up for the game. I just thought they were better than us early. We were ready to play, and we prepared for this as hard as any game, because we felt that we would get that surge.”
This was Duke’s first visit to the Joel Coliseum since 2009, when the Demon Deacons—one week removed from the second No. 1 ranking in school history— knocked off the then-top-ranked Blue Devils 70-68.
Since then, the drop-off has been staggering for Wake Forest, which has changed head coaches and had its roster completely overhauled by graduation and early defections to the NBA. The only current player who saw significant minutes for that team is Clark.
“We were giving it all we had,” Harris said. “We just couldn’t finish.”