On the road, Duke defeats a tough Wake Forest team, 75-70

lkeeley@newsobserver.comJanuary 31, 2013 

— Wake Forest's game plan was to take away Duke's looks from 3-point range. And that worked, for the most part, but Mason Plumlee set a new career-high in points as Duke pulled out a late 75-70 win.

Plumlee scored 32 points on 12-of-15 shooting from the field and an 8-of-10 performance from the free throw line. The No. 5 Blue Devils (18-2, 5-2 in the ACC) planned before the game to feed him in the post, and, when they did, he found just Devon Thomas, the freshman assigned to guard Plumlee by himself.

“They decided not to double in their game plan, and guys got me balls in the right positions,” Plumlee said. “It was just sets. There were some moves, but a lot of it was just lay-ups.”

Plumlee scored 19 of his points in the first half, a new high for him in 20 minutes of play. The Demon Deacons (10-10, 3-5), though, were shooting over 70 percent 13 minutes into the game, and the two teams were tied 40-40 at the half.

“We wanted to focus in on (Plumlee) making tough twos and staying attached to the 3-point shooters,” Wake Forest head coach Jeff Bzdelik said. “Now what we didn’t do in the first half that we wanted to do was not give him angles and make him score over you. He got a couple of dunks and angles.”

The game remained close throughout the second half, and it was a one-possession game with less than a minute remaining. It was Duke’s other senior starter, Seth Curry, who put the Blue Devils ahead for good with three minutes left as he nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key to make it 69-66.

Curry’s clincher came off of a set play designed to either get him or Plumlee an open look. And, after missing two open 3s a few minutes earlier, Curry buried the one that mattered most.

“Coach called a lot of plays where me and Mason worked together so somebody can get a shot,” said Curry, who finished with 21 points. “And I’ve just got to make a play and be aggressive.”

Wake Forest cut Duke’s lead to one point with 1:41 left on the clock as Madison Jones drove past Plumlee, who was playing with four fouls, to make it 69-68. Plumlee added his final basket on the next possession, and Curry found an open Rasheed Sulaimon, who gave Duke a five-point lead at 73-68 with 29 seconds remaining.

Curry’s 3 was one of just two all night for the Blue Devils, who finished 2-of-14 from behind the arc. That was what Wake Forest wanted, but, thanks to Plumlee’s dominance, it wasn’t enough.

“Before the game, coach said, ‘get Mason the ball,’ ” Plumlee said. “I was excepting it to come my way, and I was lathered up.”

For the second Wednesday in a row, Duke ran into an opponent on a better-than-average shooting night. The Demon Deacons shot 54.2 percent from the field — 10 percentage points higher than their season average — and Devin Thomas showed flashes of his breakout game against N.C. State as he finished with 15 points and six rebounds. Most of those came early, though, as the freshmen was limited to four points in the second half.

Duke was able to match the Demon Deacons offensively, shooting 54.8 percent from the field. The Blue Devils also went 17-of-22 from the line (77.2 percent), a big improvement over their 57.7 percent average in conference play. Duke’s two seniors led the way at the line — Plumlee was 8-of-10 and Curry 6-of-7 — just like they did in every other aspect of the game.

OBSERVATIONS

-- Duke moved to 4-0 in games that are within one possession with three minutes remaining in the game. The previous three wins came over Kentucky (75-68), Louisville (76-71) and Ohio State (73-68).

-- Mason Plumlee picked up his third foul early in the second half, as he was whistled on the offensive end of the floor with 18:33 left in the game. He picked up his fourth foul with 4:02 left on the clock, but was able to finish the rest of the game without drawing his fifth. Part of that was due to him backing off on defense, even if it didn’t feel quite right.

“I felt like a sissy sometimes,” he said with a laugh. “Coaches would like me to play better defense in foul trouble. I probably shouldn’t have been that soft in there, but I just wanted to stay on the floor.”

Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley

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