Why No. 9 Duke’s win over Wake Forest has Jon Scheyer thinking big things are possible

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Monday night offered the first test in what will likely be a difficult final three weeks to No. 9 Duke’s regular-season schedule.

Though they haven’t won in Cameron Indoor Stadium since 1997, Wake Forest has already had a good enough season to be in strong consideration for an NCAA tournament bid.

In emphatic fashion, though, the Blue Devils didn’t allow the Deacons to strengthen their case.

Duke never trailed, only allowing Wake Forest to tie the game twice in the first half, in a 77-69 ACC win where the Blue Devils showed the moxie they’ll need to head into March on a high note.

Duke (19-5, 10-3 ACC) sits tied with No. 21 Virginia (19-5, 10-3) for second place in the league standings. Only No. 7 North Carolina (19-5, 11-2 ACC) is ahead of those two in the race for the top seed in next month’s ACC Tournament in Washington, D.C.

Duke’s seven remaining league games include road trips to Florida State and Miami — the Blue Devils’ next two opponents — plus a return date with the Deacs in Winston-Salem on Feb. 24.

The Blue Devils play Virginia at home on March 2 before a short trip to Raleigh to play N.C. State on March 4 and the regular-season finale with the Tar Heels on March 9 at Cameron.

The outlook for all those games would have looked different had Duke not collected its 25th consecutive home win over Wake Forest on Monday night.

Duke’s Kyle Filipowski (30) drives past Wake Forest’s Efton Reid III (4) during the first half of Duke’s game against Wake Forest at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C., Monday, Feb. 12, 2024. Ethan Hyman/ehyman@newsobserver.com
Duke’s Kyle Filipowski (30) drives past Wake Forest’s Efton Reid III (4) during the first half of Duke’s game against Wake Forest at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C., Monday, Feb. 12, 2024. Ethan Hyman/ehyman@newsobserver.com

Instead, the way the Blue Devils played had coach Jon Scheyer confident his team is trending toward a fun final segment of the season.

“It’s on us to prove it,” Scheyer said. “We’ll be right there at the end of this thing. I’m just telling you guys. I just believe in these guys so much.”

Scheyer coached the Wake game like an NCAA tournament contest, shortening his bench to ride his top players to the finish line. Mark Mitchell (23 points), Kyle Filipowski (21 points, 10 rebounds) and Jared McCain (17 points, 10 rebounds) all played the entire second half.

Though sixth-man Caleb Foster played 25 minutes, four other reserves (Sean Stewart, Ryan Young, Jaylen Blakes and TJ Power) combined to play four minutes, 54 seconds.

“It’s hard to take Mark Mitchell or Kyle Filipowski off the court when they’re playing that way,” Scheyer said.

Duke’s Tyrese Proctor (5), center, huddles with, from left, Kyle Filipowski (30), Mark Mitchell (25), Jared McCain (0) and Jeremy Roach (3) during the first half of Duke’s game against Wake Forest at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C., Monday, Feb. 12, 2024. Ethan Hyman/ehyman@newsobserver.com
Duke’s Tyrese Proctor (5), center, huddles with, from left, Kyle Filipowski (30), Mark Mitchell (25), Jared McCain (0) and Jeremy Roach (3) during the first half of Duke’s game against Wake Forest at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C., Monday, Feb. 12, 2024. Ethan Hyman/ehyman@newsobserver.com

Mitchell and Filipowski welcomed the battle against Wake’s twin towers of 7-foot Efton Reid and 6-11 Andrew Carr. The Deacs got into foul trouble and Mitchell and Filipowski took control.

While Mitchell is on a tear, averaging 15 points a game over Duke’s last seven, Filipowski has played inconsistently.

He scored nine points before fouling out of Duke’s 72-71 win over Clemson on Jan. 27.

Last Wednesday, when Duke beat Notre Dame 71-53, Filipowski scored eight points. He scored 16, but had just one rebound, in Duke’s 80-65 win over Boston College on Saturday.

But Reid and Carr are physical players. Filipowski had the scratches and bruises to show for it after the game. But he thrived in the environment, posting his first double-double since Duke’s 83-69 win at Louisville on Jan. 23.

“Sometimes you need a little kick in the butt to get yourself going,” Filipowski said. “And sometimes that’s just how I’m wired, needing to feel that contact in order to get myself going.”

Duke’s Mark Mitchell (25) slams in two during Duke’s 77-69 victory over Wake Forest at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C., Monday, Feb. 12, 2024. Ethan Hyman/ehyman@newsobserver.com
Duke’s Mark Mitchell (25) slams in two during Duke’s 77-69 victory over Wake Forest at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C., Monday, Feb. 12, 2024. Ethan Hyman/ehyman@newsobserver.com

In many ways, Filipowski’s play mirrors the Blue Devils. He’s averaging 17.4 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, strong enough stats to make him an all-ACC pick.

The Blue Devils are a top-10 team nationally and are rolling with 14 wins in their last 16 games.

But just as Filipowski has turned in some less-than-stellar performances, Duke lost a home game to Pitt last month and never led in the second half while losing 93-84 at North Carolina.

Monday night, though, things came together as Mitchell, McCain and Jeremy Roach joined Filipowski with strong games against the talented Demon Deacons (16-8, 8-5 ACC) who are in fourth place in the league.

With March almost here, Scheyer is convinced he has the team he wants.

“I think with these guys, there’s so much noise sometimes,” Scheyer said. “I just want them to keep believing in themselves. Like, keep believing in this group. We have everything you need. You just need to keep growing. You need to keep learning.”