Wake comes up short in 79-71 loss to No. 4 Duke

Wake Forest seemed headed for another blowout against No. 4
Duke. The Demon Deacons fell behind by more than 20 points and the
Blue Devils were scoring seemingly at will.

Then coach Jeff Bzdelik’s team figured out how to put a few
defensive stops together – and that almost resulted in one of the
most memorable comebacks in school history.

The Demon Deacons’ 79-71 loss to Duke on Tuesday night – a game
they trailed by 23 with 9 1/2 minutes left – showed them that
they’re not that far from turning their program back around.

”We just fought,” forward Travis McKie said. ”You see one
shot go in, you just start believing. … If we lock down
defensively and rebound, we can compete with anybody.”

Nikita Mescheriakov and Tony Chennault both had 18 points for
the Demon Deacons (13-16, 4-11 Atlantic Coast Conference), who have
lost two of three and eight of 10 with the only wins in that
stretch coming against the only two teams – Boston College and
Georgia Tech – they are ahead of in the league standings.

Still, they couldn’t help but come away from this loss feeling
positive about the future of the program.

”It’s not about moral victories,” Bzdelik said. ”It’s just
that they fought all the way.”

McKie scored 14 points, C.J. Harris had 11 and Carson Desrosiers
finished with 10 for Wake Forest, which trailed 65-42 with under 10
minutes to play before its huge run made it a game again.

McKie’s jumper with just under 5 minutes left made it 67-61 –
the first time since midway through the first half that Wake Forest
was that close.

The Demon Deacons turned to their defense during the 19-2 run
that cut the deficit to six points – and set up two good chances to
get even closer. The Blue Devils went more than 5 minutes between
field goals.

”We just needed to get down and defend, get some stops so we
could get out and go,” Bzdelik said. ”When the light went on and
we got some stops, we got ourselves going.”

The Demon Deacons had the ball down 72-66 with less than 2
minutes left, but Chennault missed a 3-pointer, Duke milked the
clock and Miles Plumlee chased down the critical offensive rebound
of Tyler Thornton’s missed jumper with just over 1 minute left.
Seth Curry hit two free throws with 48.9 seconds left to make it
74-66.

The last chance came when Curry’s miss of the front end of a
1-and-1 left Duke’s lead at 74-68 with 35.8 seconds left. Chennault
missed another 3 and Kelly added two free throws with 25.8 seconds
to play.

”I thought I was going to make it, and by the time I (shot) it,
it felt kind of short (and) my legs kind of died on me because I
played a lot in the second half,” Chennault said. ”It was a good
shot, just a tough game.”

Ryan Kelly scored a career-high 23 points – putting up 20
against the Demon Deacons for the third straight time – to lead the
Blue Devils (26-4, 13-2) to their seventh straight win and fifth in
a row in the cross-state series. Duke became the third team in
school history to finish 8-0 in conference road games.

”Our defensive intensity was lacking there for a little
stretch. That’s something we can’t have happen,” Kelly said. ”But
to pull out a victory against a team that had been playing well at
home, and be 8-0 (in league road games), is a huge
accomplishment.”

Kelly, a 6-foot-11 Raleigh native, has been a particularly tough
matchup for the Demon Deacons ever since he established himself in
Duke’s rotation as a sophomore last season. His previous
career-high of 21 points came in a 91-73 win against them last
month at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and twice in this one he made
baskets that gave Duke its largest lead at 23 points – including a
3-pointer with 11 1/2 minutes left that made it 63-40.

”I think he’s been playing pretty well lately, and he just
needed to take it up a notch,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
”And he did.”