The official Wake Forest game notes for today’s trip to Duke stated that the Deacons had lost 17-straight games in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
That, in itself, is a sad commentary of what was once a great rivalry between two charter ACC schools.
It’s also wishful thinking.
Wake, going into today’s game, had lost 18-straight at Cameron Indoor. I should know. I was there, crammed into the suffocating confines for all 18.
I also had the good fortune of being there for all five victories during Wake’s run of nine-straight wins over Duke back in the 1990s, back when it really was a rivalry. If that seems like ancient history, well, that’s because it is.
Tim Duncan was on the court the last time Wake won at Duke. The same Tim Duncan who retired at the end of 2015-16 after a 19-year Hall-of-Fame NBA career.
Duncan may or may not have been watching on television when Duke extended the streak to 19-straight home victories with today’s 89-71 beat-down. I admit I was. And what I saw was pretty much what we’ve all come to expect when the Deacons travel across Guilford, Alamance and Orange counties to play the Blue Devils in basketball.
I saw one team that may win the national championship. I saw another destined to spend March watching the Dukes of the world play the only games that really matter anymore in college basketball, the ones played in the NCAA Tournament.
Today’s cuffing was mild by the standard set over the past 19 seasons. It wasn’t the good fight Wake waged the past two seasons, losing by eight in 2016 and by five last year. But at least it wasn’t as bloody as the 43-point loss (94-51) in 2015 or the back-to-back 31-point poundings of 1998 (78-47) and 1999 (102-71).
The Deacons actually improved their margin of defeat at Duke over the past 19 trips. The margin had been 19.7 points a game. After today, it’s 19.6 points a game.
Obviously Danny Manning had nothing to do with the first 15-straight losses at Duke. They were before his time.
Instead today’s result is simply another stark reminder of how far the Wake basketball program has plummeted since Skip Prosser’s sudden and shocking death in 2007, and how hard it is to get back to where all college basketball teams want to be.
All college teams want to be relevant outside their own base.
But what has Wake accomplished in basketball since 2010 that would be of any interest whatsoever to anyone sitting in, say, Peoria, Illinois – or anyone, for that matter, who doesn’t bleed black and gold?
Was it making the NCAA Tournament last year, only to get jettisoned before the original field of 64 began play?
If you want to pick the point, OK, I’ll give it to you. Wake was relevant last March. For a couple of days.
Duke didn’t need Mike Krzyzewski – sitting out with what was described as flu-like symptoms – to beat Wake for the 19th-straight time at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The Blue Devils did benefit from a whistle that resulted in them taking 34 free throws, compared to nine by the visitors. And they did benefit from the foul trouble that limited center Doral Moore to only 17 minutes.
But the question I kept asking was what good does having Doral Moore on the court at the offensive end do when Wake goes possession after possession without getting him the ball?
I keep track of two stats while watching Wake these days – the number of stops the Deacons get on defense and the number of times they make an entry-pass to Moore in the post.
The defense had shown improvement since the first of the year, but today Wake managed only 36 stops on 78 Blue Devil possessions. Duke took charge by scoring on 16 of the last 22 times it had the ball in the first half, and put Wake away with points on nine of 10 trips down-floor midway through the second half.
But after hearing Manning mention, repeatedly, how important it is for his big men to get paint-touches, I have to wonder how he feels knowing that in Moore’s 17 minutes today, Bryant Crawford and company found him with an entry pass only six times.
And that was counting the time he found himself ahead of the pack for a fast-break layup.
None of those six times, incidentally, came in the first half, while Duke was gaining control. Maybe the biggest indictment of Wake’s fractured offense, though, was what happened when the Deacons did get Moore the ball three times over the final 3 ½ minutes.
All three passes resulted in dunks, with Moore getting fouled and completing the three-point play on one. So seven of his nine points came after the game had long-since been settled.
By now Doral Moore has to know that if he wants the ball, he needs to go get it off the boards. He has no teammates willing or able to pass it to him.
And by now Manning and his team are filing out of Cameron Indoor and getting ready for the drive back across Orange, Alamance and Guilford counties. For the 19th-straight time, Wake is returning empty-handed.
Following the first 18 of those losses, I made that trip back home as well. And I can remember riding back up I-40 wondering what the hell happened to the Wake basketball program and what it was going to take to make it what it once was?
I’m wondering the same today. The only difference is today I’m wondering that from the comfort of my own home.