Devin Thomas and Mason Plumlee at times turned the Duke-Wake Forest game into a one-on-one matchup.
The Demon Deacons' freshman just couldn't keep up with the Blue Devils' senior — or avoid foul trouble down the stretch.
Thomas scored 15 points but Plumlee trumped that with a career-high 32 in No. 5 Duke's 75-70 victory Wednesday night.
Neither Thomas nor any of the other Demon Deacons could stop Plumlee, who was 12 of 15 from the field and hit 8 of 10 free throws, and that efficiency was a big reason why Wake Forest (10-10, 3-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) couldn't claim its second upset of a nationally ranked state rival in eight nights.
"He was making everything today," Thomas said of Plumlee. "He just got all the moves that you would want as a big man — a quick spin, a right- (and) left-handed hook, athletic. ... We wanted to foul him to put him on the line, but he was making his free throws, so it was just a lose-lose situation for us."
Seth Curry added 21 points with a tiebreaking 3 for the Blue Devils (18-2, 5-2). Despite hitting a season-low two 3-pointers, they shot 52 percent — much of that because of their efficient senior big man — to improve to 1-2 in true road games.
"I don't know if he's the best player in the league, but there's no player who's more important to his team" than Plumlee, coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "There is no substitute for him, so those kind of guys need to get the ball."
Wake Forest went up 66-65 on Tyler Cavanaugh's three-point play with 4:02 left that had Joel Coliseum rocking.
And then Duke's two healthy seniors took over.
"You look up there and we're down one, and it's go-time," Plumlee said. "It's do or die. Guys made big plays. ... It was a total team win."
First, Plumlee tied it at 66 with a free throw with 3:48 to go.
Then, Curry — who had missed his first five 3-point attempts, including two straight open looks a few possessions earlier — knocked down a 3 from the key with just under 3 minutes left to put Duke ahead to stay, 69-66.
"I just missed" the open shots, Curry said. "I just tried to stick with it, and I got another look, so I was able to knock it down."
Added Krzyzewski: "That's a sign of a really good player."
Madison Jones pulled the Demon Deacons to 69-68 on a backdoor layup with 1:40 left, but Wake Forest came up empty on its next two trips downcourt while the Blue Devils pulled away.
Plumlee hit a layup over Thomas, who had four fouls, with 1:16 left, and Rasheed Sulaimon's jumper pushed the lead to 73-68 with 27.6 seconds to go.
Plumlee blocked C.J. Harris' layup with about 20 seconds left, and Quinn Cook and Curry combined to hit two free throws in the final 15.8 seconds to seal it.
Cook finished with 12 points for the Blue Devils, who claimed their seventh straight win in the series and denied the Demon Deacons their biggest win since they knocked off then-No. 1 Duke as a top-five team themselves four years ago.
"With the guts of the game, Duke simply made some timely stops and made some timely shots," Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik said.
Harris and Travis McKie each scored 14 points for Wake Forest, which upset then-No. 19 North Carolina State eight nights earlier behind 25 points and 14 rebounds from Thomas.
And seemingly every time Duke threatened to pull away in this one, the Demon Deacons — who trailed 37-7 in their previous game, a 20-point loss at last-place Georgia Tech — found a way to claw back.
Wake Forest twice trailed by eight in the second half but managed to tighten things back up. After Sulaimon put Duke up 52-44 with a free throw with 14:40 left, Thomas keyed a 16-6 run that followed and Harris put the Demon Deacons up 60-58 with a sliding jumper with 8 minutes to go.
Duke played its fifth straight game without 6-foot-11 forward Ryan Kelly. He's out indefinitely with a right foot injury — and that was a break for a Wake Forest team that he had tormented through the years.
Four of Kelly's five career 20-point games came against the Demon Deacons, who have allowed a 20-point Duke scorer in 17 of the last 18 meetings.