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While Filipowski injury concerns Duke, don’t overlook another ailing player from loss at Wake

Kyle Filipowski’s knee injury, courtesy of celebrating Wake Forest fans rushing Joel Coliseum’s court, dominates national college basketball’s conversation this weekend.

Another Duke player’s ailment from Saturday’s Blue Devils loss to the Demon Deacons is equally as impactful, though.

During the second half of Wake Forest’s 83-79 win over No. 8 Duke, freshman guard Caleb Foster sustained a foot injury that caused him to miss the game’s final 15 minutes, 28 seconds.

A starter in Duke’s past three games and 15 games overall this season, the 6-5 Foster has emerged as a steadying force that belies his relative inexperience.

“Caleb is so important to our team,” Duke coach Jon Scheyer said Saturday. “It’s not just him making shots. He’s so steady. He plays both ends. He’s going to be such a special guard. He goes down in the second half and we don’t know what’s wrong with him, ankle or foot or something.”

Though without crutches or a walking boot, Foster walked gingerly as he left Duke’s locker room to head to the bus ride home Saturday. He’ll be the latest in a growing list of Blue Devils getting medical attention from the team’s staff this season.

Duke’s Kyle Filipowski (30) is helped off the court after the Wake Forest fans rushed the court after Wake Forest’s 83-79 victory over Duke at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, N.C., Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024.
Duke’s Kyle Filipowski (30) is helped off the court after the Wake Forest fans rushed the court after Wake Forest’s 83-79 victory over Duke at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, N.C., Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024.

Filipowski left Winston-Salem with an ice pack wrapped in clear plastic around his right knee. Fans on the court immediately after the final buzzer collided with him, sending him spinning amid the maelstrom of humanity before a Duke manager and a teammate, Stanley Borden, grabbed him to pull him to safety.

His knee in pain, Filipowski was aided to the locker room as Scheyer, who had been shaking hands with Wake Forest coach Steve Forbes, turned and yelled for people to stay clear of his players. After the game Scheyer implored conference officials to not allow such court stormings because they endanger visiting players and coaches.

“Who in their right mind sees that and says, ‘Yeah, that’s smart,’” Scheyer said. “It’s dangerous. And, in what other sport does that happen? I don’t even think, what, did the buzzer go off and all of the sudden fans are at half court. I’m with Steve (Forbes) and I turn and I see that Flip is just surrounded by students and we’re carrying him off the court. What sense does that make?”

So the medical status for Filipowski and Foster remain uncertain as Duke (21-6, 12-4 ACC) prepares for its final four regular-season games, beginning with last-place Louisville on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Because Duke has already seen sophomore forward Mark Mitchell, senior guard Jeremy Roach and sophomore guard Tyrese Proctor miss games due to injuries this season, Foster and Filipowski are two of only four players who have appeared in all 27 games. Freshman guard Jared McCain and senior reserve center Ryan Young are the others.

A preseason all-American and ACC player of the year selection, Filipowski leads Duke in scoring (16.9 points) and rebounding (8.2) this season. When defenses double-team him, the 7-foot Filipowski is an adept passer who keeps the ball moving in Duke’s half-court sets. He averages 2.8 assists per game, including five Saturday at Wake and four in Duke’s 84-55 win at Miami last Wednesday.

Duke’s Kyle Filipowski (30) tries to work around Wake Forest’s Efton Reid III (4) during the first half of Duke’s game against Wake Forest at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, N.C., Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024.
Duke’s Kyle Filipowski (30) tries to work around Wake Forest’s Efton Reid III (4) during the first half of Duke’s game against Wake Forest at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, N.C., Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024.

Though his averages of 7.7 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game pale in comparison to Filipowski, Foster’s play has become increasingly important to the Blue Devils.

First, he’s made 46% of his 3-point shots in league play.

But, secondly, he’s become increasingly comfortable handling the ball in Duke’s half-court offense, often running the point and keeping the ball moving to help teammates, or himself, find the best open shot.

Back on Feb. 17 when Duke played at Florida State, the Blue Devils turned the ball over a season-worst 17 times against the Seminoles pressure defense that’s been adept causing miscues this season. But Foster committed just one turnover in 34 minutes that day as Duke, behind McCain’s 35 points, rolled to a 76-67 win.

Duke’s Caleb Foster (1) drives by Florida State’s Taylor Bol Bowen (10), left, and Jaylan Gainey (33) during the first half of Duke’s game against Florida State University at the Tucker Center in Tallahassee, Fla. Sat. February 17, 2024.
Duke’s Caleb Foster (1) drives by Florida State’s Taylor Bol Bowen (10), left, and Jaylan Gainey (33) during the first half of Duke’s game against Florida State University at the Tucker Center in Tallahassee, Fla. Sat. February 17, 2024.

“For a freshman to handle the ball for 34 minutes and have three assists and one turnover,” Scheyer said that day, “You’re not gonna necessarily see it on the box score, but he was key to the win.”

Foster committed two turnovers at Wake Forest prior to leaving the game for good due to injury. But over Duke’s previous five games, all Blue Devils wins, he’d committed only four turnovers combined.

That’s the kind of steady play the Blue Devils will lack should Foster miss a game or two. It may not matter against struggling Louisville on Wednesday night, but Foster’s presence will be important as Duke closes the regular season at home against Virginia on Saturday, at N.C. State on March 4 and home with North Carolina on March 9.