Wake Forest pulls off upset of No. 4 Duke

Tyler Cavanaugh scored a career-high 20 points against Duke.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Before the day began, the talk was that Wake Forest head coach Jeff Bzdelik was possibly coaching his last home game. The embattled head man and his Deacons entered the game against No. 4 Duke losers of eight of their last nine games, with just one win since February began. 

Duke, fresh off of an eight-day break, would be just as tough as it was during that stretch for the most part — but well-rested. The Blue Devils were supposed to dominate the Deacons.

That’s not what happened and Duke (23-7, 12-5 ACC) took its first loss to a team outside the top-25 since January 11 (at Clemson). Wake Forest went on a 17-0 run over a nearly five-minute stretch to turn a seven-point deficit into a 10-point lead. That was all she wrote, as Wake (16-14, 6-11 ACC) pulled off the stunning upset, 82-72. 

1. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski had a bit of a dizzy spell in the second half and was not well enough to speak to the media after the game.

A long time after the final buzzer sounded, and a few minutes after Duke’s locker room opened, Duke assistant coach Steve Wojciechowski spoke to the media instead of Krzyzewski, who was told by the Duke medical staff to stay in the locker room. 

"During one of the timeouts, he had to take a knee because of dizziness and lightheadedness, and that continued throughout the game and then into the locker room after the game. So our training and medical staff advised him to stay in the locker room and get immediate treatment," Wojciechowski said. "(We) expect a full recovery and certainly are here in support of him."

No one’s used to seeing that from Krzyzewski, certainly, who’s had very few medical issues since his back problem in the late 1990’s and is as fit as a fiddle for a grandfather. 

"He’s actually in as good a shape as can be. I think just the emotion of the game — obviously, we weren’t playing as well as we needed and it was a great emotional investment into the game. I think maybe the emotion got the better of him," Wojciechowski said. "I’ve never met a better fighter than Coach K, so he pours his heart and soul into everything that he does. When his team’s not necessarily responding, it certainly can hit him hard."

2. Rest or rust? Or something else?

During Duke’s stretch of five games in 11 days, the Blue Devils didn’t always play all that well, but they won four of the five games because of their mental fortitude. 

That mental fortitude was not present in the final six minutes in Winston-Salem, and it’s likely what Wojciechowski referenced in terms of his team’s lack of response.

The atmosphere in Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum, a venue which has been known to be one of the sneakier-tough places to play in the ACC, was close to silent. There were nearly as many Duke fans as Wake Forest fans, and right around tip-off it wasn’t very full at all anyway.

At times, it was hard to tell whether a call had gone against the home team or the road team based on the crowd reaction alone. 

Duke kept Wake Forest at arm’s length for most of the game — any time Wake made a run Duke seemingly had an answer — before eventually stretching out the lead to seven points with 5:44 to go. The mostly subdued crowd stayed that way.

Jabari Parker dunked home his 16th and 17th points of the game to put Duke up 66-59, and that seemed like it would be the dagger.

That’s where the wheels came off and the crowd came to life.

Wake began its 17-0 run right then, drawing Parker’s third and fourth foul within 11 seconds of each other, forcing him to come out. Duke turned the ball over, missed hurried three-point shots and Wake Forest got anything it wanted, drawing fouls and making lay-ups and getting loose balls.

"I think our guys got rattled. (Wake was) scoring easily. We had a couple times where we had two-possession leads. We even got it up to a three-possession lead and at that time, you need to be poised and you need to get a great shot," Wojciechowski said. "I didn’t think we had the poise or the leadership on the floor to, when we had a breaking point-type of moment, to capitalize on it."

Duke teams usually win games like this because they’re tougher than their opponents are, want it more than their opponents do and can take your best punch and punch you right back.

This team took a punch from Wake Forest and a standing eight-count instead. "When the game started to go south, we didn’t stay together," sophomore captain Rodney Hood said. "That’s the biggest thing."

Hood said he noticed the team wasn’t preparing as thoroughly as it should have been when it regrouped from its time off. Instead of saying something, he figured it would work itself out. It is probably what most of America thought during the game when Duke couldn’t quite shake Wake Forest. 

"I did (sense it)," Hood said. "I take the blame, being one of the captains, for not speaking up about it, thinking ‘we’ll be all right’ once the game comes. It was a bad decision on my part. Got to get ready for Saturday. That’s a huge game for us Saturday."

3. What does this mean for the futures of both teams?

It’s impossible to say whether this changes Bzdelik job status at Wake Forest. He’s been known for getting a win or two like this each year, but the collapse his team has had in the last half of the ACC season is difficult to explain away. It definitely makes things interesting for both Bzdelik and athletic director Ron Wellman, who has been under fire since his hire of Bzdelik. Obviously, that hasn’t gotten any better as Bzdelik’s teams have continued to struggle.

There likely won’t be a postseason for Wake anyway, but that’s not true for Duke. 

Duke is certainly going to have to refocus itself before the North Carolina game on Saturday. Should they lose to the Tar Heels, the Blue Devils would be in real danger of not getting to play in Raleigh (which hosts NCAA Tournament First Round-action this year), and what’s worse, their potential NCAA Tournament seed could take a real nosedive. 

When asked if a loss like this would refocus the team, Hood could only shrug.

"It better," he said. "This is a tough one to swallow, especially first game in March."

But is toughness even something you can work on?

Wojciechowski said that it’s difficult.

"The teams that I’ve been a part of that have had the most success in March are teams with great internal leadership. The players as much as you can try to inspire and motivate them, those guys have to show it," Wojciechowski said. 

"We lost in March. As a kid, you dream of playing in March. Hopefully, this is a hard lesson that will be used in a positive way and we can move our team forward in a positive direction."

This team has all the talent in the world, led by an ACC Player of the Year candidate in Jabari Parker. A lot of teams would kill to have Hood as their second-best player. But all the talent in the world won’t mean anything if they don’t play like they’re capable of, according to Hood. Only tough teams win in March, after all. 

"Luckily, it’s not the end of the season. We’ve got a team that has beaten us coming into Cameron (on Saturday)," Hood said. "We’ve got to be ready to play."