Luke Kennard bails out No. 17 Duke in win at Wake Forest

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Luke Kennard scored 30 of his 34 points in the second half as No. 17 Duke erased a late, 10-point deficit as they landed their first road win in ACC play, beating Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, 85-83.

“The pride we showed in wearing this name across our chest, it meant something today,” Kennard said in an interview after the game.

Kennard was quiet in the first 20 minutes, but he took over down the stretch, hitting a flurry of threes and thriving as the Duke their offense through the sophomore.

He made all ten of his shots in the second half.

One of those ten field goals was a three that he hit with 6.6 seconds left to give Duke their first lead since the under-12 time out in the first half.

The win gets the Blue Devils back to .500 in ACC play, and ends a skid where they had lost three out of four in league play.

Here are three things to take away from Duke’s win:

1. It’s time to turn this team over to Luke Kennard: We talked earlier in the week about how there is a power struggle amongst Duke’s ranks. What is this team’s identity? Who is the leader? Whose team is it?

The answer should be obvious today: Luke Kennard’s.

He put together one of the most impressive performances that you’ll see this season, hitting all ten of his shots and scoring 30 of his 34 points in the second half as the Blue Devils overcame a ten-point deficit in the final five minutes and a seven-point deficit in the final two minutes. He not only made the big shots, but he made the right play. Twice late in the half, when he was on fire, he drove the lane, drew the defense and kicked the ball out in what ended up being a wide-open three for a teammate.

It was masterful, and it saved Duke’s on Saturday, and maybe even saved their season.

2. Is this a low-point for Jayson Tatum?: Duke made a definitive choice to try and play more small-ball on Saturday, using Tatum at the four alongside three guards while Marques Bolden sacrificed minutes on the bench. And while it seemed to work early on, Tatum ended up playing his most disappointing game to day. He finished with just eight points on 2-for-6 shooting with three turnovers before fouling out with seven minutes left.

Part of his struggles had to do with the fact that he couldn’t stay on the floor – there’s something to be said for the officiating on Saturday afternoon in Winston-Salem, but I’m not going there – but even when he was on the floor he never seemed in the rhythm of the game. In a half where Kennard has clearly caught fire, there were at least two possessions where the ball stopped with Tatum and he tried to make a one-on-one move that resulted in a shot bouncing on the front of the rim.

Duke’s offense is at its best when the ball moves quickly and the myriad of quick guards on the roster attack close outs, draws defense and kicks the ball out. That ends when Tatum gets the rock, and it was very noticeable in the second half on Saturday.

3. Duke showed the kind of heart and fight that we haven’t seen from them in a while: They erased a pretty significant deficit late in the game, and it never felt like that was something that was going to happen, did it?

From midway through the first half, when it became clear that Duke was never going to be getting a friendly whistle, it seemed like this was destined to be one of those nights where the Blue Devils couldn’t do enough to win. They’d keep shooting themselves in the foot with bad fouls, quick shots and missed box outs until they left with a close, frustrating road loss.

Only, that’s not how it played out.

Duke has Kennard to thank for that.

So, again, maybe it’s time to give him the reins?

4. Marques Bolden got benched for Antonio Vrankovic: If you’re saying ‘Who?’, that’s the point.

Duke went small in this game. It was clear they wanted to see what this team looked like with Tatum at the four, and that meant that Harry Giles III and Amile Jefferson were going to be splitting minutes at the five. Bolden played a few minutes here and there as Giles and Jefferson picked up fouls, but in the second half, it was the seldom-used Vrankovic that interim head coach Jeff Capel turned to.