There was no hotter player in Duke’s win over Michigan State than Grayson Allen.
The senior, who scored a career-high 37 points against the then-No. 2 Michigan State on Nov. 14, was on fire that game – and he was the primary reason the Blue Devils won after Marvin Bagley III, the freshman forward, left the game after being hit in the eye in the first half.
The Blue Devils needed Allen, and he delivered.
But in the games following that performance, Allen went through a cold stretch.
The 6-5, 205-pound guard, scored 10 points (3-for-9) against Southern on Nov. 17. He scored a season-low 5 points (2-for-9) against Furman on Nov. 20. And over the next three games, he never scored more than 14 points in any game. Part of Allen’s low scoring can be contributed to Bagley, who had strong performances during that stretch. Bagley often had the matchup advantage in the post, and Duke went to him often.
But Allen was also missing his shots. Over that five game stretch he shot 33 percent, 22 percent, 29 percent, 36 percent and 42 percent from the floor.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said two weeks ago that Allen was banged up. The coaching staff kept him out of some practices, too.
“I think it’s December 2 and we’ve played 10 games,” Krzyzewski said Saturday. “We’ve actually, in the last month, played more than we’ve practiced Grayson.”
Injuries slowed Allen during his junior season at Duke. After averaging 21.6 points per game as a sophomore, when he was the primary scoring option along with Brandon Ingram, his points per game average dropped to 14.5. Duke also had a number of different scoring options last season. Allen was sometimes tasked with playing the point guard.
But prior to this season, Allen said injuries were the biggest factor.
“I had a lot of them,” Allen said in November of the type of injuries he had last season. “Ankle, toe.”
Allen, who has never been shy from taking contact, sometimes resulting in him crashing to the floor, said Thursday that he had been nursing a wrist injury. But his wrist is now “100 percent” healthy, he said.
It looked that way against Indiana last Wednesday, and South Dakota on Saturday. Allen scored 21 points against Indiana, including a clutch 3-pointer that put Duke up by four points during the game’s final minutes that gave Duke the lead for good.
On Saturday against South Dakota, Allen was looking for his shot early and often. He scored 15 points (6-for-7) in the first 8 minutes and 10 seconds of the game. South Dakota had 13 points. The Cameron Crazies began to chant, “Grayson’s winning.”
As a result, Duke raced out to a 56-30 lead at halftime, and South Dakota couldn’t recover. Allen finished the game with 25 points in 26 minutes played. He was 8-for-11 from the floor, and 4-for-5 from the 3-point line.
South Dakota coach Craig Smith recalls watching Allen play in the 2015 national championship game as a freshman and thinking Allen was “amazing.”
“He’s always been very good obviously, but I feel like this year, and I’ve watched Duke play a lot, he’s taken his game to a whole other level,” Smith said.
Allen did not play the last 8 minutes and 32 seconds of the game. Krzyzewski said he wanted to give his bench a chance to play.
“A lot of the things I did, I just let them come to me,” Allen said after the Indiana game. “I didn’t try to force anything. There were a lot of 3’s that I could have taken and have taken that I felt like I kind of passed up.
“Just trying to be more patient with the game because in this kind of game, there was so much attention on the bigs – they were doubling – I felt like my opportunities were going to come.”
Those opportunities have come, and Duke is now 10-0, with both of its best players – Allen and Bagley – on top of their games. Allen is now averaging 17.8 points per game. Bagley is averaging 22 points and 11.2 rebounds per game.
“I think what we’ve learned is we have two of the exceptional players in America in Marvin and Grayson,” Krzyzewski said.
Duke plays St. Francis (Pa.) at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Tuesday at 9 p.m. The Red Flash, which plays in the Northeast Conference, is 3-4.
Duke currently has the nation’s most efficient offense, according to kenpom.com, an advanced analytic site. If Allen and Bagley continue to be on together, who knows what this offense can do.
St. Francis (Pa.) at Duke
When: 9 p.m., Tuesday
Where: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham