WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.—If Saturday is any indication, Duke is Luke Kennard’s team.
The sophomore lit up the stat sheet with a game-winning 3-pointer, a perfect 6-of-6 shooting day from beyond the arc and 30 second-half points to carry the No. 17 Blue Devils back from a 10-point deficit in the last four minutes and win their first road game of the season.
But in his own way, junior Grayson Allen has found his niche as well. And it’s not as the superstar, even if that was his role last year.
The preseason favorite for National Player of the Year has drawn more attention—much more—for his tripping of Elon’s Steven Santa Ana and tussles with opponents than his play this year. For the season, he is only shooting 39.2 percent from the field and 32.8 percent from beyond the arc.
So after getting booed every time he touched the ball during the game, shoved into the Duke bench after chasing an offensive rebound and seeing his younger teammate hit the biggest shot of his career, what did Grayson Allen do?
He hugged Kennard. He was the first one to do so. And even in the locker room after the 85-83 win, as the media swarmed Kennard, Allen could not stop grinning.
“We had a lot of good shots and a lot of open shots, especially with Luke,” the second-team All-American said. “He’d been hot and we knew if we got the ball to him, he was going to knock it down.”
Allen was a contributor, too, with 19 points on 5-of-11 shooting from downtown. But on a team with so many potential threats, he has had a new role this year.
On Kennard’s 3-pointer, Allen was the number two option.
“It wasn’t like we were looking for a three. But that’s where the ball was going [to Luke],” Capel said. “We had been running the play where we had been getting the down screens, and it worked, and we felt that they probably would know that. So we faked the down screen. We told Luke to fake it and come across the baseline, and we felt that he would be open on a curl or something.”
Allen at times has been arguably his own worst enemy, drawing the ire of the nation for his aggressiveness and creating a distraction for his teammates during the season. But Saturday, he also may have brought the team together when he drew a technical foul on Brandon Childress.
Off his own 3-point miss from the right wing, and after being booed vigorously by the home crowd during his free throws the previous possession, Allen hustled to the corner of the court for the rebound. Allen grabbed Wake Forest guard Bryant Crawford, was whistled for a loose ball foul near the Duke bench and got pushed down by Childress, who was not involved in the play, as several Blue Devils and Demon Deacons crowded around the two players.
“I don’t know who did it, but I was just standing over there trying to mind my own business and got pushed into the stands,” Allen said.
Asked if he considers himself a target, Allen added, “I think that’s a question to ask him, I don’t know. I don’t really mind it either way. If they are trying to do it, I guess we’ll just shoot more free throws.”
After the ensuing Crawford free throws, Duke went on a 15-4 run to close the game. That run might not have been so large if Allen had not contributed to the cause.
Down four with 55 seconds left, the Blue Devils ran another beautiful play using down screens that spread out the Demon Deacon defense and left Allen wide open on the left wing for a 3-point attempt.
The junior sank it, quieting the crowd, cutting the deficit to one and energizing the Duke bench and contingent of visiting fans attending Wake Forest’s first sold-out contest since 2009.
“That was a game changer,” Kennard said. “Grayson had so much poise.”
Still, the win was not the most impressive performance from Duke as a team. The Blue Devils committed 30 personal fouls—12 more than their average per game—freshman Jayson Tatum struggled offensively and fouled out and Amile Jefferson still did not look 100 percent, totaling just four points and four rebounds in 20 minutes of action in his third game back from a right-foot bone bruise.
So it may be too much to conclude the game was a turning point for Duke. Those who thought a come-from-behind win against Miami last weekend served a similar purpose were mistaken when N.C. State knocked off the Blue Devils 84-82 at home Monday night for the first time since 1995.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway is not that Kennard is talented. That is something the team already knew. After Allen’s slew of tripping incidents, poor shooting late against the Wolfpack and an emotional reaction early in the second half Saturday that led to a technical foul, he showed a different side down the stretch against Wake Forest.
Maybe Allen is maturing. Maybe he is not. But clearly the Jacksonville, Fla., native has a new role, and he seems to be embracing it. For all the hassles he deals with, Saturday he earned a check in the win column for demeanor, and he also helped the Blue Devils earn a much-needed victory along the way.