Last night was not the Wake Forest Demon Deacons' night. Not by a long shot.
The Wake Forest men's basketball team, then-ranked eighth in the nation, outplayed their inter-conference rival Duke Blue Devils (then ranked ninth in the nation), but ended up suffering their fifth loss of the season at the end of the night. Duke pulled ahead with a 41-19 lead with just over six minutes to play in the first half, thanks to 18 points for Duke guard/forward Gerald Henderson (finished with 35). After the 41st point was scored for Duke, Wake Forest--led by sophomore guard Jeff Teague--went on a 21-10 run to end the opening half. Instead of the 22-point lead for Coach K's Blue Devils, Duke went into the locker room with an 11-point lead, 51-40. If you know your math, you know that 11 is half of 22. This run killed Duke's momentum, giving Wake Forest much more confidence than they had going into the game at the Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, NC.
Teague finished with a team-high 28 points, shooting 63% from the field, which was the key to Wake's success. As a team, the 'Deacons shot 61% from the field, including 56% from beyond the three-point line (5 of 9). Four of Wake's players went for double-digits in the point category, forward James Johnson, another sophomore, went for a double-double with 26 points and 11 rebounds.
Let's just face it, Wake Forest was firing on all cylinders. Had they not committed 22 fouls against Duke's players, they would have won this single-handedly.
While Wake was on fire on the free throw line (14-16), Duke got more free passes. It seemed as though a Wake Forest defender fouled the opposing team every time you turned around. Four, yes FOUR Wake players were just one foul away from fouling out. I understand that they were forced to foul in the last minute or two, being down by ten or more, but had they not turned the ball over 20 times, compared to Duke's six turnovers, they wouldn't have been put in that position.
Wake Forest had a field-day shooting-wise, managed 14 points off the bench (Duke with just seven bench points) and even out-rebounded Duke 32-20, but in the end, the team that made the less mistakes will usually win the game. That team just happened to be the 22-5 Duke Blue Devils, giving them their second straight victory. The ten-point win allowed them to move up to number seven in this week's AP Top 25, thanks to losses suffered by #1 UConn, #2 Oklahoma, #3 North Carolina and #5 Michigan State this past week. Wake's fifth loss of the season dropped them to 13th in the poll released earlier today by ESPN. Pittsburgh (25-2) is the number one team for the second time this season, while both UConn and Oklahoma drop just one spot to two and three, respectively.
Both teams have four games remaining on their schedule before selection Sunday and Conference Tournaments start. All four are inside the ACC.
Tonight's slate of games is a very short list of three top 25 teams. The sixth ranked Louisville Cardinals (21-5), who is tied for second with Pittsburgh and Marquette when it comes to Big East Conference records (12-2), will take on the struggling Georgetown Hoyas. The Hoyas currently stand at 14-11, 5-9 in the conference, and are at the bottom of the long list of "bubble teams" for this year's March Madness tourney.
The other big game includes a showdown between number 15 Kansas (22-5) and the third ranked Oklahoma Sooners (25-2), looking to bounce back from the upset-loss to Texas Saturday night. The big news in this game is that the Sooners will be without likely Player of the Year winner, Blake Griffin, who also happens to be the NCAA's leading rebounder (13.8 PG). Griffin left Saturday's game early with a concussion. I would not expect him to miss any more than just this one game. Oklahoma will certainly need him come time for the Big 12 Conference tournament.