Luke Kennard is answer to Duke’s depth issues in win at Wake Forest

Mike Krzyzewski has a six-man rotation now without Amile Jefferson. (USATSI)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A season ago, Duke’s ability to survive through attrition defined its march to a championship. When the Blue Devils were on the ropes in the title game against Wisconsin, it was that eighth available scholarship player, Grayson Allen, who provided the spark the team needed to complete its ultimate goal.

Duke is dealing with equally concerning depth issues again in 2016, but this time there is not as much confidence in the team’s ability to find those game-changers down the bench. Foul trouble further exposed those issues in a 91-75 win at Wake Forest on Wednesday night, forcing the Blue Devils to sweat through long stretches of action with its best players on the bench.

“We’re not a really good team, we’re a good team,” Mike Krzyzewski said. “We don’t have many guys, man. Those five national championship banners, none of those guys are coming out of the woodworks.

“We’re literally on an edge all the time. Our guys have to realize that and we have to play that way. Not conservatively, but smart. Today was a great win for us, considering everything.”

The immediate answer for Duke’s depth issues seems to be Luke Kennard, who followed his 17-point performance against Boston College over the weekend with 23 points (one short of his season/career high) on 7-of-11 shooting and a perfect 9-for-9 showing at the line. Duke only lost the battle of the bench points by three, 26-23, all thanks to Kennard.

Marshall Plumlee picked up his second foul with 6:53 left in the first half and Duke fans were treated to a rare sight: some first half play from Sean Obi. Obi and Chase Jeter did their best to have a positive impact on the floor with Plumlee out, but their presence happened to coincide with a Devin Thomas-led surge by Wake Forest.

Thomas was fantastic all night (21 points, 12 rebounds) and will be able to have success against even the best big men in the ACC, but going inside against Duke’s bench was clearly an objective once Plumlee sat down.

In 2008, Duke faced a similar predicament going up against a talented Wake Forest team. But instead of Thomas and Codi Miller-McIntyre it was a freshman Jeff Teague and James Johnson throwing down dunks that sent the tie-dyed Wake Forest fans into a frenzy. The Blue Devils faced early foul trouble in that game, too, and it ended with every single starter fouling out in an 86-73 loss.

Kennard’s play, a great second half from Plumlee and a phenomenal shooting night from Allen (24 points), kept Duke from suffering the same fate as that 2008 team. Plumlee in particular delivered a great showing overall with 18 points, seven rebounds no missed field goals or free throws.

“It was such an uplifting thing for the rest of the kids, to see Marshall [Plumlee] play like that, because we haven’t had that. That was great. And Kennard was terrific.”

Plumlee also did a great job calling the shots on defense, often stuck in a lineup with three or four freshman once Matt Jones and Allen each picked up their fourth foul. If Plumlee and Kennard can hold down the frontcourt, Duke might be able to survive Jefferson’s absence for a little while longer.

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