By Andrew Kahn–
(CBS Local) Tonight’s national championship game will almost certainly hinge on the play of Duke’s freshmen. And while Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, and Tyus Jones have been incredible this season, don’t forget about Grayson Allen. He, too, was a McDonald’s All American, and has been an important piece off the bench for the short-handed Blue Devils, scoring nine points in 17 minutes in a Final Four win over Michigan State.
Allen, a 6’3” shooting guard from Jacksonville, Flor., was one of nine McDonald’s All Americans on the Duke roster at the start of the season. He opened the season with 18 points against Presbyterian but averaged just 1.6 over Duke’s next 25 games. When shooting guard Rasheed Sulaimon was dismissed from the program in late January, Allen’s role increased. He scored a season-high 27 points in a blowout win over Wake Forest on March 4th, going 9 of 11 from the field and 4 of 5 from deep.
His teammates have been boasting of Allen’s exploits in practice for much of the year. Senior Quinn Cook guards him every practice. “He’s fearless,” Cook said in the Michigan State postgame press conference. “He’s one of our better penetrators to facilitate or score. He gets overlooked [because of] our great three freshmen, but he brings it every day. He has a great attitude. He’s all in about the team, all in for winning. He showed some things out there tonight, not just on the offensive end, but defensively, which we needed tonight.”
Allen won a few major dunk contests in high school, including one in which he jumped over Okafor. In the second half against Michigan State, he chased down his own three-point miss from the corner—one of a season-high five rebounds—and threw down an emphatic one-handed dunk that energized his teammates and the Duke fans. He was the first player off the bench for Duke in that game and helped get the Spartans in foul trouble with his aggressive penetration. Mike Krzyzewski said no Duke player drives the ball harder than Allen, quite the compliment given what we’ve seen from Winslow and Jones.
Allen’s outside shooting was noted as a strength by recruiting services, but he’s struggled a bit from outside since the breakout game against Wake Forest. He is 3 of 15 since then and is at 34 percent for the season. He still appears to be shooting with confidence though.
Unless they get into foul trouble, Duke’s starting guards, Cook and Jones, won’t see the bench much tonight against Wisconsin (9:18 p.m. ET, CBS). But Duke dress only 10 and plays eight, so Allen will get important minutes. Wisconsin’s game plan is going to focus on containing Okafor in the post and limiting Winslow’s slashing. Allen, who didn’t even play when the teams met in December, has a chance to make an impact with his athleticism and scoring ability.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal.