Duke Basketball
Without Coach K and with a new member in the starting five, Duke Basketball cleared the hurdles, beating Wake Forest 76-64 on the road. A.J. Griffin (21) starred for the Blue Devils in his first career start, recording 22 points and four rebounds in the win. (Photo by Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports)

Blue Review: A 2021-22 Duke Basketball Recap – Game 15 Wake Forest

Without Coach K and with a new member in the starting five, Duke Basketball cleared the hurdles, beating Wake Forest 76-64 on the road. Coming off the heels of a reality check loss to Miami, the Blue Devils made the short drive to Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum and rather convincingly bested the Demon Deacons. Behind the dynamic freshman frontcourt tandem of Paolo Banchero and A.J. Griffin, who combined for 46 points, Duke and associate head coach Jon Scheyer were able to snag a much-needed victory.

“I really think this win was big for us, not just because we won but the way that we played as a team,” junior guard Wendell Moore Jr. said. “Regardless of the fact that we won by 12, this game was so fun to play in as a team. It felt kind of like how we were playing at the beginning of the season. It was a lot of fun – guys sharing the ball, a lot of guys smiling. You don’t even know who’s scoring, you just know that Duke’s scoring. We’re getting stops at the other end. That’s what it’s about. Any time we come out and play like that, I think we’ll be a very hard team to beat.”

VIA Duke Athletics/goduke.com

All of the problems that handicapped the Blue Devils against the Hurricanes were remedied for 40 minutes against Wake Forest. Crushing turnovers from the Duke backcourt numbered 17 on Saturday. On Wednesday, guards Trevor Keels, Jeremy Roach and Moore combined to turn the ball over two times. Collectively, the Blue Devils had seven turnovers, a mark below their season average (9.7). It might have been the more methodical sense of play in the halfcourt, but the backcourt trio just seemed to be a bit calmer.

Pair that ball security with great second half defense and a vintage Duke run, and the Blue Devils (13-2, 3-1 ACC) gave a glimpse of their November selves. The No. 8 team in the country still has stuff to figure out – as all teams do midseason – but a win over a potential NCAA Tournament team in Wake Forest bodes well for the resume. Let’s get into the takeaways from a positive night.

The emergence of the Banchero-Griffin partnership

This was a long time coming. The pair of ultra-skilled forwards had looked the part in the time they featured together in preceding games. Wednesday, however, was the awakening. As already mentioned, the pair combined for 46 points, as Banchero notched 24 on 11-for-23 from the field, while Griffin tallied 22 points on 8-for-11 shooting, including 3-for-5 from beyond the arc. Griffin’s combination of size, footwork, agility and ball handling, makes him an exceptional modern-day wing. He is likely Duke’s best shooter and with Banchero going to work in the post, Griffin’s ability to spread the floor out, but also create on his own, will enable the best play from this squad.

In his postgame press conference, Banchero said the inclusion of Griffin in the starting lineup had a profound effect.

“I think it affected us in a positive way. I think it gives us more size. It still gives us great shooting – AJ [Griffin] is a great shooter, as we saw today. He only missed three shots, so incredibly efficient scoring. Then, like I said, more size and more strength.”

VIA Duke Athletics/goduke.com

A picture can tell 1,000 words, so a pair of videos is all the proof I need that the duo, along with Moore, should be night in and night out getting the most shots for Duke.

Griffin loves to use that step back 3-pointer, so when opposing teams key in on that, he is able to blow by them for an easy layup. Banchero, who only registered 10 shots against Miami, doubled that total against the Demon Deacons. Even if Coach K gets him to shy away from some of those contested pull-up 3s, the 6-foot-10 forward should continue to get 15-plus shot attempts a game.

It’s January and the Blue Devils have discovered their seven/eight man rotation

Taking inspiration from both Benjamin Franklin and CBB analyst Jon Rothstein, there are three certainties in life: death, taxes and Duke Basketball sorting out a seven-to-eight-man rotation by January. Well, ladies and gentlemen, we have reached that stage of the season.

Six Blue Devils notched 19 minutes of action or more against Wake Forest – Moore, Banchero, Griffin, Keels, Roach and Mark Williams. Those are the key six guys who will make or break this season of Duke hoops, with Joey Baker and Theo John also featuring in the game for 11 and six minutes, respectively. For better or worse, Duke is once again rolling with a short bench and rotation.

Blue Devil defense stout again

Wake Forest has the 36th highest scoring offense in the country (79.1 ppg) and boasts one of the most prolific individual scorers and playmakers in guard Alondes Williams (20.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg and 5.0 apg). It’s hard on any night to take Williams out of a game – he notched a game-high 25 points – but the Blue Devil backline was content with that margin, given the fact he attempted 21 shots. Duke guards, mainly Moore, were hounding him all night, forcing Williams into seven turnovers, a season high.

As a unit, the Blue Devils held the Demon Deacons to 44.4% shooting from the field and 12.5% shooting from 3-point range, while also forcing 15 turnovers. A lot of preseason talk was devoted to Duke wanting to become a defense-first team and the shift in defensive fortitude from the Miami loss to the Wake win should have both the coaching staff and the locker room buzzing.

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