CHICAGO—Midway through the first half, Marvin Bagley III headed to the Duke locker room, barely—if at all—able to see out of his right eye. And without the star freshman on the floor, Michigan State surged back into a game in which the Blue Devils had seemingly seized control.
But the most experienced and battle-tested player on the United Center floor Tuesday night made sure Duke would not fold.
After putting up 40 points combined in a pair of opening weekend contests, Grayson Allen continued his torrid pace, scoring a career-high 37 points and shooting 7-of-11 from downtown to lead the No. 1 Blue Devils to an 88-81 victory against No. 2 Michigan State in the Champions Classic opener. Without Bagley, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski leaned on a deeper rotation that saw nine players get at least three minutes, led by 17 points and 10 assists from Trevon Duval.
With the clock nearing the final minute, Allen stepped up as he had all night, draining a long triple from the top of the key to give the Blue Devils a seven-point cushion.
Twenty seconds later, a steal and an outlet pass from Duval led to a thunderous two-handed slam by Javin DeLaurier, ultimately sealing the deal.
“Grayson is invaluable to our team,” DeLaurier said. “He’s our captain, our leader. He’s been through the biggest moments in college basketball and he played an unbelievable game tonight. We’re just fortunate to be able to play with him.”
Although Allen dominated as a scorer throughout the night, he began the game’s final stretch as a distributor. With the game tied at 75 apiece and just more than three minutes remaining, the Jacksonville, Fla., native kicked to Gary Trent Jr. on the left wing, and the freshman did not miss, drilling his first triple of the night after missing six straight 3-point attempts to start the contest.
The next time down, Allen hit his sixth trey of the night, doubling the Duke lead, as the Spartans would not get any closer than four the rest of the way.
"I’ve played in 90 more games than the four teammates that were out there with me. I feel a little more comfortable and calm and confident out there," Allen said. "A lot of times it’s good to go 100 miles per hour, and it's also good to slow it down a few times. That’s the adjustment I’ve tried to make, and it’s made me more comfortable."
After the Blue Devils (3-0) pulled ahead by as many as 10 in the opening minutes of the second half, the Spartans chipped away. With a 12-2 run in less than four minutes, Michigan State tied the contest at 56 apiece on a Nick Ward and-one that brought a heavy Spartan contingent back to life.
From there, neither team could gain much distance. With the whistles aplenty throughout—both teams were in the bonus before the under-8 mark of the second half—Trent Jr., DeLaurier and Spartan rookie forward Jaren Jackson Jr. all had four fouls for the final 7:47.
“We were worried about fouls, that they were deeper than us, and in a man they would wear us down,” Krzyzewski said. “With the nervousness of a big game, we were worried that we would get some dumb fouls. We just stayed in [the zone].”
But Duke could not totally avoid some mistakes against one of the toughest opponents it will face all season.
The Blue Devils shot just 39 percent both from the field and beyond the arc, struggling with Michigan State’s length—the Spartans racked up 12 blocks on the night. Freshman Wendell Carter Jr. was also whistled for a technical foul after getting tangled up with Michigan State’s Ben Carter and elbowing the Spartan forward in the face.
“I just kind of lost myself in the heat of the game,” Wendell Carter said. “I didn’t try to hit him at all. I don’t think I did, but he grabbed my jersey and I just knocked his hand off.”
Nonetheless, Duke leaned on its 2-3 zone rather than Krzyzewski's usual man-to-man defense, and the results paid dividends. The Blue Devils dominated the glass, winning the battle of the boards 46-34.
Duke also had 25 offensive rebounds on the night, frustrating Michigan State and its head coach Tom Izzo, who is now 1-11 all-time against the Blue Devils.
“We haven’t faced the zone much and I give them credit, they played it the whole game,” Izzo said. “I thought we could get a lead and get them out of that zone, the advantage would go to us, but we couldn’t get a big enough lead.
It was a first half of runs that saw the Blue Devils and Spartans (1-1) go back and forth. Michigan State grabbed a 12-8 advantage to start the evening as Duke opened the contest just 2-of-15 from the field. Still, the Blue Devils hung around and took control with a 13-0 surge, with the Spartans going scoreless for more than four and a half minutes.
Once Bagley headed to the locker room after DeLaurier poked him in the eye going up for a rebound, the contest flipped. Michigan State stormed back to go in front 25-24 with just less than five minutes remaining in the opening half. The teams then traded leads until a Duval steal in transition and a nearly 30-foot triple by Allen put Duke up 38-34 entering the locker room.
After the game, Bagley was in the Blue Devil locker room but did not speak to the media.
“I didn’t even know it was me, to be honest,” DeLaurier said. “We were just going for the offensive rebound and all of a sudden, he was on the ground. Hopefully he’s alright. We obviously want him to get better as soon as possible.”
Whether Bagley will be available for Duke’s Friday night matchup with Southern remains to be seen. But the adversity of playing without the Phoenix native could prove critical for the Blue Devils come ACC play.
“We learned that we’re a tough team,” DeLaurier said. “Michigan State is a great program.... This was our first big moment as a group, and hopefully we’ll have quite a few more.”