Duke's Grayson Allen (3) and Amile Jefferson (21) struggle for the ball with Wake Forest's John Collins (20) during the second half of Saturday’s game in Durham. Both Allen and Jefferson are continuing to battle lingering injuries.
Duke's Jayson Tatum (0) drives to the basket while Wake Forest's Konstantinos Mitoglou (44) defends during Saturday’s game in Durham. The Blue Devils prevailed 99-94 for their seventh straight win.
By Adam Rowe
Special to the Times
Duke has been out of the Top 10 since the Blue Devils lost to Louisville on Jan. 14, a stretch going back a little over a month and nine games. Besides the last five minutes of the game against NC State nine days later — resulting in an 84-82 loss — Duke has played winning basketball.
The Blue Devils have won seven straight, hold the longest winning streak in Atlantic Coast Conference play and sit just one game out of first place in conference. With four regular-season games left, it looks like they’ve righted the ship and are headed in the right direction with postseason action right around the corner.
While junior Grayson Allen has hit a mini-slump since the start of the Clemson game when he rolled his ankle, sophomore Luke Kennard and freshman Jayson Tatum have picked up the slack to keep Duke’s winning streak alive. Kennard is averaging 21 points over the last four games, with Tatum dropping in 18.8, including the UNC win.
JEFFERSON, ALLEN BANGED UP
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski mentioned after Saturday’s 99-94 win over Wake Forest that he considered resting Allen and Amile Jefferson to help them get over their injuries. Krzyzewski said he expects to play both this week against Syracuse and Miami. Allen, specifically, has been through an insane amount of struggles this season, both self-inflicted and not, and has fought turf toe since the offseason. Now, he’s battling an ankle injury in addition to the toe issue, but has averaged 31 minutes a game. However, the injuries are clearly affecting his play as he’s only shooting 25 percent from the field and 31.5 percent from behind the 3-point arc over the last three games.
Jefferson has been injured longer, suffering a bone bruise in his right foot during the Boston College game on Jan. 7, which forced him to miss the next two games. He hasn’t been himself since, scoring in double digits twice in the nine games he played after coming back from injury. Saturday night’s game against Wake Forest was the first time Jefferson looked like his old self in some time, scoring 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting and bringing down seven rebounds. But he had trouble defending the Demon Deacons’ John Collins, and still has some recovering to do. Finding that time to recover will be tough, though, as Duke plays three games in the next six days starting Wednesday at Syracuse.
A LOOK BACK AND AHEAD
Tatum led Duke’s second-half surge in its 65-55 win at then No. 14 on Feb. 15. The freshman scored 21 of his 28 points in the second half as the Blue Devils overcame a 25-21 halftime deficit in John Paul Jones Arena. He hit 6-of-7 attempts from 3-point range and was good on all six of his free-throw attempts.
Tatum continued his long-range accuracy Saturday, joining Kennard and Allen with three 3-pointers each as the Blue Devils went 13 of 27 from behind the arc in their win over Wake Forest. Kennard had 23 points while Tatum finished with 19.
Duke will play just once in Cameron Indoor Stadium in its last four regular-season games, with road trips to Syracuse (Wednesday), Miami (Saturday) and North Carolina (Saturday, March 4) to finish out the year. The one home game? Tuesday, Feb. 28, against No. 19 Florida State, which means two Top 20 opponents (UNC is No. 8) before the start of the ACC tournament. The good news for the Blue Devils is that they have the second-best record against Top 25 teams (5-3) thus far this season. The bad news? The only team with a better record against ranked teams in the conference is FSU at 6-1.
MONSTER RECRUIT TO VISIT
Duke is hosting basketball recruit Mohamed Bamba for his fourth official visit next weekend, and the 6-foot-11, 207-pound big man from New York City is one of the top targets remaining on the board for the Blue Devils in the senior class. He’s ranked third overall in the class and is the second-highest rated power forward, although he’s expected to play center in college. Duke has lost ground in his recruitment of late to Kentucky and Texas, but a big visit with a decision coming sometime this spring could be enough to catch up.
BIG FOOTBALL RECRUITING DAY
This past Saturday was Duke’s biggest recruiting visit day of the spring, with nearly 30 visitors and their families and town to take in the campus, meet with academic advisors and spend time with the Blue Devils coaching staff and players.
Probably the biggest target in attendance was class of 2018 four-star defensive tackle Tahj Rice, who is expected to announce his commitment sometime this week. Things are looking good for Duke with days to go until a final decision is revealed. He’d be the third-highest commitment ever to the Duke football program, according to the 247Sports.com Database.
Adam Rowe covers Duke basketball, football and recruiting for 247Sports.com. Check out more of his work at duke.247sports.com.