One week ago, Grayson Allen’s career-high 37-point showing led the top-ranked Blue Devils past No. 2 Michigan State at the Champions Classic.
But since the 88-81 victory, Duke’s lone captain has struggled on the offensive end of the floor. He posted 10 points, four rebounds and three turnovers in the Blue Devils’ sluggish showing against Southern Friday, missing all six triples he attempted.
Monday night’s 92-63 romp of Furman brought more of the same for the Jacksonville, Fla., native. Allen scored just five points on 22.2 percent shooting from the field and 1-of-4 shooting from beyond the arc, securing three rebounds and dishing out six assists in the win.
With the national player of the year candidate struggling to get his shots to fall, Duke’s younger backcourt players, led by point guard Trevon Duval and shooting guard Gary Trent Jr., have shown their ability to spark the Blue Devil offense even when its veteran leader is not at 100 percent.
“They’re young in age, but the thing with Gary and Trevon is that they’re physically ahead. You wouldn’t think of them as being freshmen,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “They’re freshmen, but physically they’re strong. Hopefully, mentally they’ll be strong too. Last year’s team wasn’t like that.”
Duval scored a career-high 18 points on 9-of-12 shooting in Monday night’s contest. He dished out four assists and brought down four rebounds in the affair. Perhaps most importantly, he managed to run the offense with composure despite a lackluster performance from team’s sole veteran.
The New Castle, Del., native has shone for Duke to start the season, averaging 13.6 points and 7.6 assists per game through five starts. As the Blue Devils’ first true point guard since Derryck Thornton reclassified to the play in Durham in 2015-16, Duval’s pass-first mentality has complemented both the Blue Devils’ sharpshooting contingent and their commanding frontcourt presence.
“He can penetrate and he keeps the ball on a string in fast break,” Allen said of the young floor general. “He’s done a tremendous job of finding guys and not really turning the ball over, and he has it in his hands a lot. Whenever we get a stop, we want to give it to him and let him make a play.”
Trent has also asserted himself during Allen’s slump. The Columbus, Ohio, native scored nine points on 4-of-8 shooting from the floor against the Paladins and notched eight points and 10 rebounds in Sunday’s contest against the Jaguars.
But beyond just statistics, Trent has consistently hit key shots when Duke has needed a boost.
After a failed jump ball and a series of turnovers left the Blue Devils rattled and scrambling in the opening minutes of Monday night’s contest, Trent forced a steal and drove to the basket for an easy layup to open up the scoring. Seven minutes later, after Duke had fallen behind Furman midway through the half, the freshman scored five points in 35 seconds to help put the Blue Devils firmly in the lead.
And Friday, when the game was tied at 27 with 5:30 remaining in the first half, Trent Jr. drained a triple to spark a 10-0 run that put Duke ahead of Southern for good.
“Grayson only had five points and we still won by  points,” Trent said. “That just shows you that we simply can hold our own. We have to do that. We can’t just rely on him—he needs help. Sure, he can hold it on his own, as we’ve seen, but we can be there to help there and be outlets for him.”
Even freshman Alex O’Connell—who has averaged just 10.0 minutes per game thus far in the season—contributed significantly to the backcourt effort against the Paladins. The Roswell, Ga., native scored 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the floor and 2-for-3 shooting from 3-point range in just 12 minutes of play.
Although the Blue Devils will certainly look to Allen—who was held out of the team's last two practices after being "banged up"—to overcome his slump and get back to the 25.7 points per game he averaged before Duke’s contest against Southern, they certainly take solace in the fact that their veteran shooting guard has a supporting cast that is more than capable of picking up his slack.
“We have a ton of talent on this team,” Allen said. “It’s gotta be tough to guard that because you can’t just key in on me. I had a big night two games ago, but if you key in on me, then [other players are] going to have a big night. That just makes us dangerous on offense and really it’s anybody’s game.”
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