Though it certainly wasn’t expected, Duke and Wake Forest had quite a battle back in February; let’s see what happened.
The national pandemic canceled the postseason and robbed us of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. There were many teams who missed their chance to shine on the national stage, but there were a few teams who had plenty of chances in the regular season. For our look at the top 40 games from the 2019-20 season, we look closely at an ACC shocker that certainly fits the bill.
24. Wake Forest 113, #7 Duke 101, 2 OT
February 25, 2020, Lawrence Joel Coliseum in Winston-Salem, NC
When Duke and Wake Forest met in Winston-Salem in late February, these were two completely opposite programs. The Blue Devils remained one of college basketball’s premier programs while Wake Forest had continued their elongated struggles, with this season no different. In fact, these two teams had met just over a month earlier, with Duke walking away with a 31-point win.
From Tre Jones to Vernon Carey Jr., with plenty of talent in between, this Duke team was in a solid position for extended success into March, as was usually the case. They arrived at Wake Forest with a solid 23-4 record, looking to finish atop the ACC for the first time in quite a few years. The Blue Devils had recently suffered a rough loss at NC State and would certainly be on upset alert on the road again.
For Wake Forest, this seemed to be another lost season, sitting at just 11-15 and a complete non-contender in the ACC. The Demon Deacons had picked up a nice win over Xavier a few months back but were struggling to string wins together in conference play. Seniors Brandon Childress and Andrien White had played well at times but this team just wasn’t built for postseason success.
Playing at home, Wake Forest certainly had a much better shot against a Blue Devils team that had dominated them last month, and they played very well in the opening minutes of the game. Jahcobi Neath and Isaiah Mucius both hit several shots early, with Wake Forest building a 6-point lead just seven minutes into the game. Duke had an answer, as well expected, but the Demon Deacons did as well.
A shot from Carey brought Duke to within two points, but Wake Forest went on a little run. In a foul-happy game, Wake Forest got six straight points from the charity stripe, extending a 12-3 run to give them a sudden 29-18 lead. They’d extend the lead as high as 12, but Duke clawed back into the game. They got 3-pointers from several players and played firm defense, with Jones’ 3 just before the buzzer tying the game after one half.
Duke continued their stellar play into the second half, taking the early advantage. A jumper from Mucius three and a half minutes into the half was followed by a long drought for Wake Forest. With just over ten minutes left in the half, Duke had extended their lead all the way to 12, matching Wake Forest’s prime advantage from the first half. With Duke outscoring them by 24 in the last fifteen minutes, it wouldn’t have been a surprise to see Wake Forest fold.
But the Demon Deacons had fight in them. Chaundee Brown hit a big 3-pointer to stop the bleeding, while a six-point spurt from Olivier Sarr helped make the game single digits once more. White’s 3-pointer made it a 4-point game with just under six minutes left. Matthew Hurt hit a shot and a bunch of free throws and with just 1:21 left in the game, Duke led 78-69, seemingly starting to put the game away.
Wake Forest still didn’t quit. They got an and-one, a steal, and easy layup, and took advantage of some missed free throws. Sarr’s dunk made it a 3-point game, and a steal from Ismael Massoud led to a 3-pointer from Brandon Childress that somehow tied the game. Both teams bungled their final chances and we went to overtime.
The overtime period was a hard-fought battle, with neither team able to pull away. The two teams traded baskets, though a few missed long-range shots from the Blue Devils gave Wake Forest a definite edge.
Childress’s and one opportunity put Wake Forest up by four in the final minute, but Alex O’Connell hit a big 3-pointer with 18 seconds left. Wake Forest couldn’t make both free throws on the ensuing possession, while Tre Jones’ hit both free throws on Duke’s last chance, sending the game to double overtime.
Surprisingly, the second overtime was a completely different story. A quick 3-pointer from Childress set the tone as Wake Forest raced out to a 7-point lead. Duke’s offense was nonexistent and the Demon Deacons’ lead kept growing. A dunk by Mucius in the final minute was the dagger and certain exclamation mark as the Blue Devils scored just 4 points in double overtime, leading to a 12-point Wake Forest victory.
The Demon Deacons put up 113 points, led by a stellar 25-point effort from Sarr and 24 points from Brown. Childress had a majority of his 17 points in the two overtime periods, while Wake Forest made 54% of their long-range shots. Duke got 25 from Wendell Moore and 24 from Tre Jones, and despite shooting 31 of 34 from the free throw line couldn’t get the game closed out in the end.
While this result was certainly unexpected, the story remained the same for the two programs. Though Duke would drop their net game at Virginia, they solidified themselves in the 4th seed in the ACC and were a certain contender had the NCAA Tournament happened. For Wake Forest, head coach Danny Manning lost his job at season’s end, though the team first fell in their first-round matchup in the ACC Tournament.
Though their talent levels have been drastically different in recent memory, Duke and Wake Forest remain in-state rivals, and games like this seem to be proof. Wake Forest came out to play on this night, no doubt having the memory of that 31-point loss firm on their minds. They could have fallen out of the game when they blew a big first-half lead, but instead, the Demon Deacons clawed back and gave us one of the season’s best games.