Duke's teeter-tottering without Ryan Kelly continued on Wednesday night at Wake Forest.
The Blue Devils left Winston-Salem a little higher than they arrived, getting their first road win out of the way, 75-70.
The ACC is starting to take shape, and Duke is stubbornly staying in the picture at the top—albeit lumbering behind the floor-slapping Miami Hurricanes.
Nothing these days comes without a struggle for the Kelly-less Blue Devils. It's a strange new reality. You take one player out of the mix who isn't even the star and suddenly an elite team treads closer to the field.
It seems that each game, another way to beat them—or at least stay with them—is laid out for the rest of the league to see.
Mason Plumlee was in Player of the Year mode on this night, throwing up 32 points on 12-of-15 shooting, and the Demon Deacons didn't seem to mind.
Jeff Bzdelik was content with letting Plumlee get his, while staying home on Duke's guards so they couldn't go off. Duke shot an uncharacteristically low five threes in the first half and finished the game a season-worst 2-of-14 from beyond the arc.
Wake Forest went with the Miami model offensively, spreading Duke out and attacking off the dribble.
The Demon Deacons got close to becoming the third team in five Kelly-less games to shoot better than 50 percent against the Blue Devils—finishing at 48 percent. Not one opponent was able to accomplish that before Kelly went down.
It's a world of adaptation that Mike Krzyzewski lives in right now.
Duke fans would like to think it's all about Kelly—and some of it is—but it should also be pointed out that Duke did not play one true road game with Kelly in the lineup.
That's what made this trip to Wake Forest so important. Not only could the Devils not afford to slip further behind Miami if they wanted to stay in contention for a conference title, but they also needed this to prove to themselves they could win on the road, where they had a perfect record in ACC play last year.
“Winning on the road is not passed down," Krzyzewski told The Herald-Sun this week. "You have to be able to be tough enough to win on the road."
Overcoming an ice-cold outside shooting night should qualify.
The next challenge for Duke is to get to that rematch with Miami on March 2 in position to be within sniffing distance of the 'Canes. It's probably not beneficial for the Devils to look too far ahead considering some of the struggles they have had as of late, but the path doesn't look too bumpy.
The only road games against teams with winning conference records between now and March 2 are at Florida State this Saturday and Virginia on Feb. 28. It's a manageable schedule.
The 'Canes improved to 7-0 in the ACC on Wednesday night. More important than their overall record is their conference record on the road: 4-0.
That's a team that is for real.
Duke seems to have enough to get by with Plumlee continuing to play at an elite level and at least one guard typically stepping up to complement him. Curry played the part against Wake Forest, scoring 17 points despite his 1-of-6 struggles from deep. His one three came with 3:10 left and broke the final tie.
It was just enough to finally scratch "road win" off the to-do list.
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