INDIANAPOLIS – With two of Duke’s star freshmen in foul trouble in the biggest game of the season, the Blue Devils found a championship-saving jolt from an unlikely source.
Hello, Grayson Allen. Welcome to the game’s biggest stage.
The fourth and often overlooked member of Duke’s heralded freshman class scored 16 points in Monday night’s NCAA championship game. That included a run of eight straight points – along with a huge burst of energy – that helped Duke get back in a game that was slipping away and beat Wisconsin 68-63 for the program’s fifth title.
Allen’s timely burst was desperately needed for Duke with star big man Jahlil Okafor battling foul trouble. And with Okafor sitting for long stretches of the second half, Allen saw major minutes in a small lineup for the Blue Devils (35-4).
Allen, a 6-foot-4 guard from Jacksonville, Florida, scored 10 points after halftime and finished 5-for-8 from the field along with a perfect 5-for-5 from the foul line in 21 minutes. Along the way, he provided some of the same hustling plays he did in Saturday night’s win against Michigan State in the Final Four, sprinting and diving on the floor for loose balls or penetrating hard into the paint.
It was a heck of a coming-out party, one that put Allen on the five-man all-tournament team after this one was over.
“Grayson just put us on his back,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who became only the second coach to claim five NCAA
championships with the win.
There’s no way Wisconsin could’ve seen Allen’s outburst coming, either.
Allen had played at least 20 minutes only twice and scored in double figures four times all year before Monday night. He was averaging just 4.0 points in 8.9 minutes per game coming in, and
much of that production had come in an 18-point outing in the season-opening win against Presbyterian and a 27-point outburst in a rout of Wake Forest in February.
But he had earned a bigger supporting role and more trust from Krzyzewski dismissed Rasheed Sulaimon from the team in January, even though there were still plenty of games where he saw only spot minutes here and there.
Yet in the biggest game of Duke’s season, it was hard to imagine how Duke – which trailed 48-39 when Allen started his personal spurt with a 3-pointer – could’ve won this one without him.