Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
NEW YORK – College basketball fans love to boo Duke players, but those boos usually mean said Duke players have done something well.
Take Grayson Allen for example. The Blue Devils’ sophomore shooting guard came to Madison Square Garden this weekend and lit it up. He scored 30 points against VCU on Friday night, then followed that on Sunday afternoon with a game-high 32 points on 9-for-12 shooting in an 86-84 win over Georgetown in the championship game of the 2K Classic.
Allen’s play made him an easy Most Valuable Player selection, but also an easy target. When he was given the MVP award, the Georgetown part of the 17,287 present at MSG began lustily jeering the Jacksonville, Fla., native.
Who could blame those fans? Allen was nothing short of terrific.
“Grayson had a spectacular performance,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “To score 32 points is one thing, but to do it with 12 shots is incredible, absolutely incredible. He was so deserving of the MVP for this. There wasn’t someone in second or third.”
“I think he helped himself this weekend for sure, especially after Kentucky (on Tuesday night) when he showed flaws,” Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress told SNY.tv on Sunday afternoon. “He really turned things around and showed people what his good side looks like. A lot of that shooting came from the NBA 3-point line and he was good off the dribble. He did a really good job.”
Allen’s big weekend in Manhattan came on the heels of Duke’s 74-63 loss to Kentucky on Tuesday at the Champions Classic in Chicago. Allen shot just 2-for-11 and finished with six points while turning the ball over four times in 28 minutes. For much of Tuesday night, he was being guarded by Wildcats freshman and former Roselle Catholic (N.J.) sensation Isaiah Briscoe.
With three days to think about that forgettable performance, Allen came to the Garden and made it his personal playground, especially on Sunday when a good Hoyas team threatened to run away with the game.
Georgetown led by as many as eight with 8:30 to play in the first half and by five, 47-42, at halftime, but Duke charged ahead for good early in the second half. Over the first 4:36 of the second half, Allen either scored or assisted on all 16 Blue Devils points.
“I think he wanted to show what he means to us and the team,” Blue Devils senior forward Amile Jefferson said. “I think the performance he had this weekend was unbelievable and we’re not in this game tonight without Grayson. He kept us afloat and he’s been amazing.
“One game doesn’t judge a man and he knew that. He came back with a fight, with a burn, with a toughness that I knew he would have and it was amazing.”
Said Allen: “It’s so great to play in this arena, Madison Square Garden, it’s an honor. This is a historic basketball arena and it’s amazing to be here. It’s a great opportunity to us.”
Allen’s strong play this season is a continuation of last season’s national championship game, when he scored 16 points in a win over Wisconsin and was named to the Final Four All-Tournament Team. That immediately led to questions of whether or not he would declare of the 2015 NBA Draft.
That was never a real option and the notion quickly faded, but questions of whether or not Allen could come out for 2016 have begun to surface. That isn’t likely to slow down now that Allen is a primary scoring option on this Duke team.
Allen is currently slotted as the No. 33 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft by DraftExpress, but that could certainly change.
“Considering he’s 6-5, you would like to see what he would look like as a combo guard,” Givony said. “Can he handle the ball, play pick-and-roll, and create? Those are the questions. He hasn’t really shown playmaking ability, ability to change speeds, read the other side of the floor and make guys better.
“He showed flashes of that, nifty passes and stuff along those lines and that will help him. Defense is going to be a big thing for him. He’s not the tallest or the longest, so can he guard an NBA shooting guard? I will say, he’s a very competitive dude.”
Follow Josh Newman on TwitterFollow ZagsBlog on Facebook
Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.