Duke (finally) plays a true road game, where ACC wins have been elusive lately

Zion Williamson dunk drives Cameron Indoor Stadium fans crazy

Zion Williamson steals the ball from Clemson and does a 360 degree dunk as the Tigers trail the play
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Zion Williamson steals the ball from Clemson and does a 360 degree dunk as the Tigers trail the play

The time has finally arrived for Duke to play games on an opponent’s home floor.

Ranked No. 1 for the third consecutive week, the Blue Devils (12-1) have played five games away from home at neutral sites, but have yet to play a true road game.

Duke plays at Wake Forest (7-6) Tuesday night (7 p.m., ESPN) before a trip to play at No. 13 Florida State (12-2) on Saturday (2 p.m., ESPN).

Since Duke has already played five teams ranked among this week’s AP top 25, going 4-1, no one can deny the Blue Devils have played a challenging schedule.

But true road games, particularly in conference play, are different. Look no further than last Saturday, when four ranked teams (Kansas, Nevada, Florida State and Kentucky) all lost league road games.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said his team will learn something new this week with its first road games.

“There’s always work to do just getting experience,” Krzyzewski said Monday. “The main thing is to keep getting experience. I think you get ready for conference by playing an outstanding schedule.”

ACC road games have proven more difficult for Duke than any other games. The last two seasons, the Blue Devils have had losing records in league road games -- 4-5 last season, 3-6 in 2016-17.

In the last five seasons, Duke is 23-22 in ACC regular-season play away from Cameron Indoor Stadium, with winning records in road games in only two seasons. . One of them was the 2014-15 national championship team that went 7-2 on the way to a 35-4 season. The following season’s team, featuring sophomore Grayson Allen and freshmen Brandon Ingram and Luke Kennard, went 5-4.

One thing has been constant over the last five seasons -- whenever Duke has won its first ACC road game, it has posted a winning league record on the road.

The last time that happened was 2016.

Duke lost its league opener, 89-75, at Virginia Tech in 2016-17. Last season’s Blue Devils lost their first two ACC road games 89-84 at Boston College and 96-85 at N.C. State.

Lest anyone think past failures won’t motivate a team with four freshmen in the starting lineup, junior co-captain Javin DeLaurier offered some insight Saturday after Duke beat Clemson 87-68 at Cameron Indoor Stadium to start the ACC season 1-0.

In his first two seasons, the Blue Devils started 0-1 thanks to those early road losses.

“We know,” DeLaurier said. “We talked about it. We are 1-0 in the ACC. Hopefully we’ll keep it going.”

This Duke team is doing things that translate to success no matter the venue.

Riding a seven-game winning streak, Duke is No. 2 in the country in defensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy’s advanced statistics. The last Duke team that finished in the top five was the 2010 NCAA championship team, which was No. 5.

The latest NCAA statistics show Duke currently leads the country in blocked shots per game (11.9) and is second nationally in steals per game (11.6).

That’s in addition to Duke’s usual potent offense that’s No. 2 in the country in KenPom’s offensive efficiency metric. That’s expected for Duke, which has been in the top 10 of that category in each of the last 10 seasons.

Now, though, it’s time for Duke freshmen stars Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, Tre Jones and Cam Reddish to feel the wrath of a road crowd for the first time.

“Every team will give you their best shot,” Barrett said. “It’s going to be tough. That’s why you come here.”

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An Illinois native, Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. Prior to his arrival in Durham, he worked for newspapers in Columbia and Spartanburg, S.C., Biloxi, Miss., and Charlotte covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly.