Duke has largely been a mess since losing Zion Williamson to a knee injury on Feb. 20.
But even in victory, the Blue Devils haven’t looked more disheveled than they did in Tuesday’s 71-70 victory over Wake Forest.
Duke rallies from 10-point deficit
The Blue Devils needed a late comeback and a lot of missed Demon Deacons shots to fend off disaster in the form of an 11-17 Wake Forest team that walked onto Coach K Court a 26.5-point underdog.
Wake Forest threatened to open the game up early in the second half when it went on a 10-0 run to take a 49-39 lead with 16:21 remaining. The Blue Devils got back into the game when the Demon Deacons missed 11 of their next 12 shots, many of them good looks.
Would-be game winner rolls off rim
In the end, none of Wake Forest’s misses were bigger than Chaundee Brown’s would-be game-winning putback that rolled off the rim as time expired.
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) March 6, 2019
As has plagued them in their prior four games since Williamson’s injury, the Blue Devils struggled to find supporting players on Tuesday.
R.J. Barrett was outstanding as usual, logging 28 points, five rebounds and four assists while passing Marvin Bagley as the highest-scoring freshman in Duke history. But the team’s lack of depth was once again exposed as Duke struggled to support its NBA lottery-bound freshman.
Little production behind Barrett
Fellow future first-round pick Cam Reddish was of little help against the Demon Deacons.
Reddish finished with six points on 2-of-10 shooting and didn’t make his first field goal until hitting a 3-pointer with 11:46 remaining.
Tre Jones had a good performance with 13 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three steals. Beyond Jones, no other Blue Devil scored in double figures.
Brown led the Demon Deacons with 21 points and 10 rebounds while Brandon Childress tallied 19 in the loss.
Depth issues plague Blue Devils
Duke’s depth struggles have been a trend in the five games since Williamson went down, two of them losses to North Carolina and Virginia Tech. With its floor leader gone, the Blue Devils have not found consistent production from anyone not named Barrett.
And while the loss at home to UNC came against a team with its own national title aspirations and the road loss to the Hokies came against a ranked ACC opponent, Duke’s struggles against a bad Wake Forest team couldn’t come at a worse time as tournament play approaches.
What’s it mean for March?
A team once viewed as a juggernaut is showing considerable vulnerabilities that may or may not be solved with the return of Williamson if he indeed does suit up again for the Blue Devils.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters after the game that he doesn’t expect Williamson to suit up for Saturday’s showdown against North Carolina, but that he’d “be surprised” is he’s not ready for the ACC Tournament.
The Blue Devils will obviously need him in March. Like most teams, this is clearly not one built to win six straight games without its best player. But Duke has demonstrated since Williamson’s injury that it is dependent on the fortunes of a single player more than any other team in the country.
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