When Duke called his number, Luke Kennard answered time and time again Saturday against Wake Forest.
Duke had the ball down by 1 with 15 seconds left, when senior guard Matt Jones found Kennard coming off a screen. The 6-6, 202-pound sophomore guard caught the ball, pulled up and hit the game-winning 3-pointer to lift the Blue Devils 85-83 over the Demon Deacons (12-9, 3-6 ACC).
“I was just setting my man up and created a little space and Harry (Giles) did a great job of getting me open,” Kennard said. “I ended up having some space and tried to knock it down and it went in.”
Duke (16-5, 4-4 ACC) was down by 10 with a little more than four minutes left in the game. But Kennard and the Blue Devils caught fire.
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Duke went on a 14-2 run during those four minutes. And Kennard was responsible for 11 of those 14 points.
The only other three points Kennard didn’t hit, came off a wide open Grayson Allen 3-pointer with 55 seconds left, that brought Duke within 1.
“He just kept hitting shots so we just kept going to him,” Allen said of Kennard. “You’ve got to stay with the hot hand and he’s been big for us all season. We knew whenever he got the ball off, it looked like it was going in.”
Kennard finished with a game-high 34 points, 30 of them coming in the second half. He was also 10 for 10 in the second half and 5 for 5 from the 3-point line.
This isn’t anything new for Kennard, who prior to the game averaged 19.8 points per game, which leads the team. Coming into the season, all the talk was on the star freshmen class Duke was bringing in.
But since the first game of the season, Kennard, who’s one of the leading candidates for ACC Player of the Year, has been Duke’s best player.
But no shot or point was any bigger than the one he hit Saturday to lift the Blue Devils over Wake Forest (12-9, 3-6) and give the Devils their first ACC road win of the season. Duke had lost three of its last four games, including an 84-82 loss at home to N.C. State on Monday.
That loss prompted Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski to punish his players, according to an ESPN report.
Krzyzewski, who is out while recovering from back surgery, prohibited his players from entering the home locker room and wearing Duke gear.
Fifth year senior Amile Jefferson said the key going forward will be to not give up when down by a lot of points.
“We just have to be better on the defensive end,” Jefferson said. “We can be a highly productive offensive team, but we have to do it on both ends.”