No Coach K, no problem as new-look Duke blows past Wake Forest

Jon Scheyer filled in for Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils rolled out a new, bigger starting lineup

Duke associate coach Jon Scheyer looks on before the Blue Devils' win Wednesday at Wake Forest. Scheyer filled in for head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who missed the game with an undisclosed, but non-COVID, illness. (PJ Ward-Brown / North State Journal)

WINSTON-SALEM — With its head coach out sick, Duke got well, beating Wake Forest 76-64 for the Blue Devils’ first road win of the season.

The Blue Devils came to Winston-Salem facing some adversity. Duke lost to Miami at Cameron Indoor Stadium last time out and has looked rusty and off kilter in its two games since returning from a nearly two-week COVID-related break in the season.

Further complicating matters, the Blue Devils were facing the surprising Demon Deacons, undefeated in 10 home games, off to a 13-3 start overall and riding a two-game winning streak.

Earlier in the day, Duke announced that it would be without head coach Mike Krzyzewski for the game, after the Hall of Fame coach came down with an illness the school described as a “non-COVID virus.” That meant that coach-in-waiting Jon Scheyer, already announced as Krzyzewski’s replacement following this season, would fill in for the game.

Scheyer was 1-0 as interim coach after leading Duke to a one-point win over Boston College last season when Coach K was quarantined due to possible COVID exposure.

Krzyzewski missed practice on Tuesday, and Scheyer had 24 hours to prepare to lead the team without Coach K on the bench.

“It’s been no different than the last month we’ve had,” he said. “Every day, we’re figuring out who do we have? Who don’t we? COVID? Not COVID? Who’s sick? Who’s healthy?”

“Any time the opportunity comes, he’s going to be ready,” Wendell Moore said of Scheyer. “Whether he knows two days in advance, 22 hours or two hours.”

Duke opened with a different look, changing its starting lineup for the first time this season. Jeremy Roach came off the bench after starting the first 14 games, with freshman AJ Griffin taking his place in the lineup.

“It gave us great size,” Scheyer said of the new lineup. “The group we put out there to begin the game is a big team. Trevor Keels and Wendell Moore were our two smallest players, and they’re big guards who can switch (and guard every position). We still need Jeremy to come through big for us, and he did that. But it was really about AJ’s emergence.”

Griffin responded with a 22-point game, hitting 3 of 5 from 3-point range.

“AJ Griffin has been working his tail off all season,” Scheyer said. “He’s never complained. To see it translate on the floor is really special.”

Duke jumped out to an early eight-point lead, but the Demon Deacons were able to respond with a run of their own to keep things tight throughout the first half. The Blue Devils then closed the half with a spurt, scoring the final eight points to lead 35-29 heading into the break.

“Winning that last minute was a huge swing for us,” said Scheyer. “Being up six points at the half when it had been back and forth, that’s a big-time swing.”

Duke kept things rolling, opening the second half with a 14-1 run for a 22-1 edge spanning the half. The Blue Devils made 13 straight shots, while Wake missed six straight.

“The mindset was don’t let up,” said Paolo Banchero, who led Duke with 24 points. “We just wanted to come out and keep our foot on the gas.”

“Coming out and getting all those defensive stops knocked them back,” said Scheyer. “From there, we were really in control of the game.”