WINSTON-SALEM — The Duke basketball team picked up another vote in the Associated Press poll Tuesday night.
Not that the Blue Devils needed it.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s talented young team is already ranked No. 1 in the nation. But because it had yet to play a true road game, a grandstanding voter named Graham Couch of the Lansing State Journal in Michigan has refused to include it on his ballot.
He won’t have that excuse anymore now that Duke has officially ventured onto someone else’s court, routing Wake Forest 87-65 at Joel Coliseum behind 30 points and 10 rebounds from freshman star Zion Williamson and 21 points from his classmate R.J. Barrett.
“Since Day 1 we’ve been working on little things and trying to get better,” said freshman point guard Tre Jones, who contributed seven assists while committing only one turnover. “Tonight was our first road game. It wasn’t the most lively crowd, but we were able to bring the energy in the second half and put them away.”
Truth be told, Wednesday’s game between the top and bottom teams in the ACC standings was a road game in name only for the Blue Devils. With Wake’s students still on break, there were nearly as many Duke fans among the 14.268 in attendance as those pulling for the Deacons
Semantics aside, it wouldn’t have mattered where the game was played. Even though the Blue Devils were far from their best, they didn’t didn’t need to be against an opponent that has already suffered losses at the hands of Houston Baptist and Gardner-Webb this season.
The Deacons (7-7, 0-2 ACC) actually stayed close for most of the opening half, taking advantage of Duke’s 5 of 15 shooting from beyond the 3-point arc and nine turnovers. But even at that, they still trailed by eight at the break after Jones fed Cam Reddish for a 3-pointer at the buzzer for a 42-34 advantage.
“Anytime you can make a momentum swinging play at the end of a half, there’s always some carryover,” Deacons coach Danny Manning said.
In this case, it did.
Duke (13-1, 2-0) scored the first four points of the second half on the way to a 10-3 spurt that effectively broke the game open. The Blue Devils outscored the Wake 45-31 over the final 20 minutes.
Much of the damage was done by Williamson.
The 6-foot-7, 285-pound forward who has become the face of this Blue Devils’ team because of his spectacular dunks and an agility few his size have ever displayed, filled up his stat sheet with five rebounds, four steals and a block to go along with his career-high point total and 13 of 16 shooting performance.
The one thing he didn’t do is provide the paying customers and YouTube with his usual above-the-rim heroics.
He did, however, show off another aspect of his game by making three of his four 3-point attempts in the game. That’s one fewer than he’d made in his first 13 college games combined.
“I’m going to keep improving my threes as the season goes on because I know I’m going to need it,” Williamson said. “When teams play off me, I can’t force the jump. I’ve got to shoot the three.”
Asked if he has enough confidence in Williamson to give him the green light to shoot threes whenever he wants, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski just laughed.
“I have confidence in him doing everything,” the Hall of Fame coach said. “If I didn’t, there’d be something wrong with me. He’s a complete player and so efficient.”
He wasn’t the only Blue Devil that played an efficient game. As a team, Duke shot 58 percent from the floor, had four players with six or more rebounds, assisted on 24 of 36 made baskets and blocked 13 shots. Five of those blocks were recorded by junior forward Jack White.
As for the Deacons, the loss was an all-too-familiar result in a season that is rapidly going off the rails.
Although Manning’s team is young, with three freshmen playing major roles — including Jaylen Hoard, who led the team with 13 points and nine rebounds Tuesday — he said that can’t be used as an excuse since Duke starts four first year players on a regular basis.
“You’re disappointed to lose, that’s always the mindset,” Manning said. “But you’ve got to dig your way out of it. This is the best league in college basketball. This is the league we signed up for. You’ve got to figure out a way.”
The Blue Devils have certainly done that, at home, on neutral courts and now on the road.
“Our schedule … we play really good teams. That’s the key,” Krzyzewski said, clearly irritated by the criticism his team has gotten for being the last in the country to play a true road game. “We’re trying to get ready for March, so where do you get a chance to play in huge neutral arenas against outstanding nonconference teams?
“That’s our plan. Whether we’re first, last or whatever (to play on the road), what importance in world events does that have? I don’t get it, but it’s something we didn’t do, so it becomes we’re not as good because we haven’t done that yet. It’s ludacris.”