WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- The Atlantic Coast Conference has been known for producing very competitive basketball over the years. Duke's Blue Devils are playing like they're set on changing that reputation this season.
An 88-52 victory over Wake Forest on Wednesday night improved No. 2 Duke to 5-0 in the ACC and, combined with top-ranked North Carolina's loss to Maryland, left the Blue Devils with the only unblemished conference record.
The victory also increased the Blue Devils' already impressive average margin of victory in league play. Duke came in winning its conference games by 26 points per game, and the victory boosted that average to 28.
``We realize that what we've done in a couple instances has not been the norm for ACC basketball,'' point guard Steve Wojciechowski said. ``We've played well and the ball has bounced our way and that's great, but we certainly don't expect that to be the norm.''
Maybe the Blue Devils should, according to Wake Forest coach Dave Odom.
``Right now they're very, very, very good,'' he said. ``They're one of the best teams in the country in a lot of things.''
The Blue Devils put on a stifling defensive display, scoring 29 points off 20 turnovers to send Wake Forest to its most lopsided loss in 15 years and its worst defeat at home in 31 years.
``Duke took us out of everything from the first minute on,'' Odom said.
The Blue Devils (15-1) had a 39-29 rebounding edge and got double-figure scoring from five players, including 36 points from their bench.
Wake Forest shot 34 percent, including a 4-for-18 showing from 3-point range.
``They just never got hot from the outside, and we were fortunate,'' Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. ``That just made our defense look that much better.''
Duke did most of its damage in the first half, harassing Wake Forest into 12 turnovers and converting them into 21 points. The Demon Deacons' biggest problem was Duke's press, which frequently produced turnovers before Wake Forest could even get out of its own backcourt. On the occasions when the Demon Deacons were able to cross the center line, they often had to do it by having 7-foot-1 Loren Woods or one of their forwards dribble the ball to a safe area.
``We just lost our composure and fell apart. That's the type of thing Duke can do to you,'' Woods said.
The result was the sixth consecutive victory for Duke and the sixth loss in eight games for the Demon Deacons (8-6, 1-3).
Wake Forest, which fell behind by as many as 40 points in the second half, hadn't lost by such a wide margin anywhere since dropping a 41-point decision at North Carolina State in 1983. The last time the Demon Deacons had been defeated so soundly at home was in 1967, when they lost by 42 to Duke.
``I think we played somewhat afraid, and that surprises me a little bit,'' Odom said. ``It was nothing that Duke doesn't do every game. The just come at you with good, hard, clean basketball. And you just have to be man enoug and good enough to stand up to it.''
Duke got 15 points from Chris Carrawell, 13 from Trajan Langdon, 12 from Wojciechowski and 10 apiece from Roshown McLeod and Mike Chappell. Freshman Shane Battier, who fueled the decisive 16-0 surge early in the first half, wound up with four points, 10 rebounds, four steals and three assists in 20 minutes.
``That was a lot of fun,'' Battier said. ``Once you get on a big run, you can just feel the energy going through your body. It feels great. It's one of the best feelings in basketball.''
Wake Forest got 15 points from Tony Rutland, 13 from Robert O'Kelley and 10 from Niki Arinze.
(Copyright 1998 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)