NEW YORK—All of sudden, Duke’s Nov. 17 loss to No. 2 Kentucky feels as if it was played months ago. Although the defeat was less than a week ago, Grayson Allen's 2-of-11 shooting performance in that game certainly appears to be a thing of the past.
Behind another monster performance from Allen, No. 5 Duke defeated Georgetown 86-84 in the title game of the 2K Classic Sunday at Madison Square Garden. Coming off a career-high 30-point performance against Virginia Commonwealth Friday, the sophomore continued his efficient, aggressive style of play against the Hoyas, pouring in a new career-best 32 points, five rebounds and four assists to lead the Blue Devils to their second straight victory and pick up tournament MVP honors.
"It feels better to play better—that's the simple answer," Allen said. “For me, it was about making adjustments from [the Kentucky] game. And I made those adjustments with the help of the coaches’ film and feedback, so it definitely does feel a lot better to play better.”
The Blue Devils (4-1) got off to a blistering start in the second half, with Duke riding Allen's wave of confidence to establish its largest lead of the game to that point. The Blue Devils opened the second half on a 19-7 run, fueled by four 3-pointers from Allen and junior guard Matt Jones. Along with interior contributions from Marshall Plumlee and Amile Jefferson, Duke did not miss a shot for the opening 5:17 of the second half, pushing ahead to take a 63-54 lead.
“Our group just has to get on coach’s bus. If we can just come out to start the game, to finish the game, at halftime, with that energy that [Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski] is giving us, then we’ll be fine," Jefferson said. "We did that this half, that second half—we responded. He told us what he wanted and I thought we did an amazing job of responding, but it has to be for a whole game.”
The Hoyas (1-3) hung around until the very end, though, coming within one point several times down the stretch. With 21.5 seconds left, Isaac Copeland hit a 3-pointer to close the gap to 84-81 and did so again with 5.4 seconds remaining to narrow it to 86-84. But even with Georgetown threatening to pull the upset in front of an animated Garden crowd, the Blue Devils hit 9-of-12 free throws in the final 1:07 to finish off the Hoyas and capture their fourth win of the season.
After a Copeland jumper gave Georgetown a 37-29 lead with 4:10 left in the first half, the Blue Devil offense—which up to that point had left much to be desired outside of Allen's performance—finally started settling in a groove, foreshadowing the outburst that followed intermission. And just as Luke Kennard sparked Duke's second-half run against Virginia Commonwealth as part of Duke's switch to a small lineup, the Blue Devils had another unsuspecting freshman step up Sunday.
Rookie forward Chase Jeter, who had been used sparingly this season, provided Duke with a much-needed spark off the bench in his second stint on the court. He slammed home an Allen miss and snagged a defensive rebound and fired it ahead to Allen, who found Jones in the corner for a 3-pointer that gave Duke a 40-39 lead. Georgetown countered the Blue Devils' 8-0 run with an 8-3 run of its own, but the Blue Devils had begun to click offensively, developing a rhythm that carried into the second half.
“[Jeter] gave us some big minutes,” Krzyzewski said. “We’re going to need that. Marshall and Amile are really good with him. He just wants to do well so bad sometimes he’ll have happy feet or miss an assignment. But the attitude’s great. It’s tough giving him as much time in these games, possession-by-possession games, but hopefully he’ll continue to grow.”
After Duke's smaller lineup paid off in a big way against the Rams Friday, the quintet of Allen, Thornton, Jones, Kennard and Jefferson or Jeter struggled to find its footing in the early going of the first, as the Blue Devils opened the game 1-of-5 from behind arc and could not establish an interior presence. The duo of Plumlee and Jefferson, though not dominant in the paint, was effective, combining for 12 points and 14 rebounds to provide the Blue Devil shooters plenty of second chances but fell victim to foul trouble in the first half. Duke finished the game 8-of-18 from behind the arc, with five coming from Allen.
On the defensive end, the Blue Devils spent part of Sunday’s contest playing a 1-3-1 zone, with Jefferson at the top. Although Georgetown head coach John Thompson III said that he felt the Hoyas were still able to find their shots, he admitted that the zone slowed their pace and kept his squad from running the floor as they had in the early going.
“We have it in, so we practice it, and it helped us,” Krzyzewski said. “It kept them out of the lane, out of driving. They were driving on us too easy. And Amile did a great job on the top of [the zone]. It helped us.”
Duke will take the court again Wednesday at Cameron Indoor Stadium against Yale.
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