Luke DeCock: Wake Forest turns back the clock, but Duke goes back to the future

By Luke DeCock

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Maybe Duke just needed to get that old guy off the bench. What’s he ever done, anyway?

More likely, the Blue Devils just needed a little time and to see a few shots go in to put their holiday COVID-19 issues behind them. They won ugly against Georgia Tech, got nipped by Miami and rolled into Wake Forest short one legendary coach but long on frustration.

This was less a test drive for Jon Scheyer on the bench than a release of pent-up anger. Poor Wake Forest bore the brunt of it. When Duke got rolling, to end the first half and start the second, the Deacons ended up watching the show just like everyone else. Especially when Duke was inbounding the ball under the Wake basket for easy bucket after easy bucket.

“It was a lot of fun,” Duke’s Wendell Moore, Jr. said. “Kind of how we played at the beginning of the season. A lot of guys sharing the ball. A lot of guys smiling.”

There wasn’t anything wrong with Duke that a little time couldn’t fix, and if Mike Krzyzewski missed his chance to say goodbye to Larry Joel, staying back in Durham with a non-COVID illness, his absence didn’t seem to slow Duke down any.

If anything, seeing this building full again, invested again, might have been a refreshing trip down memory lane for a coach sometimes obsessed with staying in the moment.

Because amid this window into the not-too-distant future, with Scheyer yet again deputizing for Krzyzewski on the Duke bench ahead of his imminent and permanent deputization — now an unofficial 2-0 in that role — there was also a jolt of the past Wednesday night, as distinct as stepping through a door.

A swirling wave of retro tie-dye, a student section that not only filled the end zone but spilled into the upper deck — it was enough to warm the soul of any old ACC aesthete that remembers when Wake Forest used to have its own thing going, and going strong.

It was almost like Tim Duncan or Chris Paul or Josh Howard were hiding around the corner, ready to retake the court, maybe even the happy ghost of Skip Prosser floating around somewhere, fulfilled again by a familiar scene.

All of that was lost during the Jeff Bzdelik reign of error and the staggering boredom of the Danny Manning era — the John Collins year excepted, to a degree — and seemingly forever. Through fun basketball and force of personality, Steve Forbes has been like a defibrillator applied to the weakly fluttering heart of Wake Forest basketball.

Alondes Williams going from unheralded Oklahoma transfer to explosive scorer and ACC player of the year candidate hasn’t hurt either, outscoring both Paolo Banchero and A.J. Griffin on Wednesday.

There’s life again. Even a little swagger. Maybe even a little too much swagger, to the point of Williams talking smack down double digits in the second half. Duke was out for blood after that.

“There was motivation coming off the Miami game, motivation getting it done for coach, maybe some motivation not wanting to make me look bad, who knows?” Scheyer said. “But definitely the first two.”

That was part of the problem for Wake Forest on Wednesday. If the Deacons looked like they’d turned back the clock to 2006, Duke turned back the clock to November while simultaneously turning it forward to next season, even if just for a night.

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