Amile Jefferson had to stop himself after he thought about what he had said.
The graduate student forward made two key free throws in the final 15 seconds Saturday against Wake Forest, giving Duke enough cushion to outlast the visitors, 99-94.
Duke clung a one-point lead just 17 seconds before Jefferson iced the pair, drawing the foul after securing one of Duke’s critical defensive rebounds down the stretch.
“I’m an older guy,” Jefferson started to say upon addressing the late free throws. “Nah, nevermind – that’s what we have to do. It has nothing to do with that. If it were a freshmen that stepped up, it would have been his shot. We’re here to be in pressure situations. We’re here to make big plays.
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“We’re here to win games.”
Those were Jefferson’s only free throws in his 16-point, seven-rebound performance, the big man’s penultimate game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
His leadership was the centerpiece of No. 12 Duke’s win over Wake Forest, as the Blue Devils swept the season series.
The score was tied at 47 at halftime, but a Jefferson pass sparked Duke and freshman guard Frank Jackson in the second half. The Duke captain ripped down an offensive rebound with 17:26 left and kicked it out to Jackson in lieu of trying to put it back.
Off the pass, Jackson buried a 3-pointer, his first of three straight baskets. Duke followed up with a 6-0 spurt, ending with Jackson’s slick finger roll that provided the biggest lead of the game at the time at 60-54. The Blue Devils (22-5, 10-4) rolled to a 12-point lead by the 12-minute mark.
“That’s a vintage Duke play,” said Jefferson, who posted all five of Duke’s blocks. “You look back at however far you go: Duke makes that play. Where a big guy or four gets that rebound and kicks it out. It’s like a dagger. It deflates the other team when you do that. That’s been a trademark of Duke and our Duke’s teams. That’s a play you gotta make.
“Frank did a great job in that second half of giving us a shot of wake-up, a shot of adrenaline, and we fed off it.”
Jefferson played 33 minutes, while freshmen bigs Marques Bolden (six minutes) and Harry Giles (four) were limited.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski said he didn’t want to interfere with Duke’s offensive flow after halftime, so he left them seated.
Jefferson, along with Grayson Allen (ankle), hasn’t been practicing because of a bruised bone in his right foot.
“Amile was back to being Amile, even though he’s limping around,” Krzyzewski said. “I gotta get these guys healthy. We’ve put ourselves in the bigger picture here, and I can’t afford to lose any of these guys now that we have them.
“If I was a pro coach, I’d not play them for a couple of weeks.”
Jefferson said he’s just going to have to play through the injury.
On Saturday, he only put a patch inside his shoe to soothe his foot, which is less material than he normally has in his shoe for games.
Wake Forest (15-12, 6-9) dug itself out of the second-half hole with the help of sophomore forward John Collins. He led the Deacons with 31 points on 13-of-18 shooting and 15 rebounds. A Collins dunk broke up a double-digit lead with nine minutes left, and he later saved a loose ball that produced a Wake Forest basket for a 77-71 deficit.
He got one down over Jefferson at 6:11 for a four-point game.
“He had a really good touch around the rim,” Jefferson said of Collins, who had seven of his 13 makes in the paint. “What we did was just make it tougher, fight him. Good players are going to score the ball. It was good for us to get the win, even with him playing at such a good level.”
Both teams shot more than 50 percent Saturday, Duke finishing at 59 percent and Wake Forest 50.7. During the first 10 minutes of the second half, the Blue Devils made 11 shots to the Demon Deacons’ four for some vital separation.
In the last four minutes, Wake Forest made five of its final 10 shots and Duke was 2-for-3. The Blue Devils, who didn’t make it to the foul line until Bolden’s trip at the 3:49 mark of the first half, cashed in at the free-throw line late.
Jefferson, Jackson and freshman Jayson Tatum combined to go 6-of-6 in the final 34 seconds.
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan