By: MIKE McCURRY NEW YORK — Duke co-captain Matt Jones figured teammate Grayson Allen would improve upon Wednesday’s performance, when the preseason All-American logged 12 scoreless minutes.“G’s a competitor,” Jones said. “You can’t play that bad your whole life.” Allen bounced back and then some in the Blue Devils’ come-from-behind 81-77 victory over Louisville in Thursday’s ACC Tournament quarterfinal, coming off the bench to score 18 points—his most in exactly one month. The win advances Duke to Friday’s semifinals, where they will square off against archrival North Carolina in a game that will take center stage on the big stage in New York. Since we’re in Brooklyn, it’s only right to quote hometown legend Jay-Z to describe Allen’s resurgent performance: “I guess I got my swagger back, truth.” Between Frank Jackson picking up his third foul at the 6:34 mark of the first half, in addition to Luke Kennard starting off slow for the second consecutive game, Duke desperately needed Allen to put Wednesday’s no-show behind him. Suffice it to say, Allen did just that by nailing a pair of threes, finishing strong drives to his left, and making 6 of 7 free throws. “I’ve seen G at his best, and we knew that time would come,” Jones said. “We needed G to be G today, and he was a big key for why we won today.” Eventually, Kennard rediscovered his sweet stroke, finishing with 24 points and 10 rebounds for his second career double-double.
Jayson Tatum dazzled again too, collecting 25 points and 6 rebounds (all defensive) prior to fouling out. But Duke wasn’t going to overcome a 12-point deficit against Rick Pitino and company unless their third go-to contributor arrived. Allen is just too important to this team. If bellwether stats are your thing, here’s one: The Blue Devils are now 12-1 when Allen scores at least 15 points this year. “I believe in him,” said an elated Mike Krzyzewski afterward when asked about his embattled star. “I love him. And I thought what he did today was sensational. I loved it. I loved it. He was himself today.” As for Allen, whose recent demotion to the bench immediately makes him the country’s best and most polarizing sixth man, he couldn’t stop smiling. For one day, at least, he was able to silence the detractors. Thursday provided Allen with a clean slate, and he delivered. “We really needed a spark off the bench, and I didn’t think I did a good job of that in the first game [on Wednesday against Clemson],” he said. The 6-foot-5 junior has been through the meat grinder this season, single-handedly experiencing more tumult than most programs. There’s the injuries (turf toe, dislocated pinky, and currently a rolled ankle) as well as the extracurricular activities—both the tangible kind (tripping Elon’s Steven Santa Ana, resulting in a team-imposed one-game suspension) and the overblown, fabricated variety (walking through NC State’s huddle and allegedly shoving a Florida State assistant coach). At one point, ESPN’s Seth Greenberg even suggested via Twitter that Allen might be best served sitting out the rest of the season. So merely having to deal with an off-game against Clemson the day before probably felt like a major relief to Allen. It’s no wonder why he looked like he was having fun on Thursday. Photo: @DukeMBB Follow Mike on Twitter Follow Adam Zagoria on Twitter And like ZAGS on Facebook
LUK333333 K3NNARD!24 points.
10 rebounds. #MustSeeACC.#ACCTourney pic.twitter.com/WBx1RBzPXN — ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) March 9, 2017