OMAHA, Neb.—As Grayson Allen worked for a final shot against Malik Newman in the closing seconds of regulation, Duke’s captain had a chance for another signature moment—one that would almost certainly play in videos before the beginning of any game in Cameron Indoor Stadium for years to come.
Once the ball left the senior’s hands, the CenturyLink Center fell nearly silent after reaching a fever pitch just seconds earlier in one of the most memorable NCAA tournament games in recent history. Allen’s floater banked off the glass and hit every part of the rim before spinning off the mark and robbing the guard of another career-defining moment.
A few minutes later, Allen’s college career was complete, as the Blue Devils fell to Kansas 85-81 in the Elite Eight.
“That thing rolled around the rim about four times. I thought it was going in. It’s not a good feeling,” Allen said. “It’s like a shock to your body. You don’t plan for a loss. You just expect to keep going and going. It’s so abrupt when it hits you. It’s just boom, and it’s over.”
In many ways, the ups and downs that Duke fans felt as Allen’s shot rolled and rolled around the rim do justice to the kind of career the Jacksonville, Fla., native had as a Blue Devil.
After rescuing the Blue Devils in the 2015 national title game against Wisconsin, Allen transformed into one of Duke’s leading scorers as a sophomore. But with increased scrutiny in the light of his tripping incidents, Allen’s career was painted in a less than favorable light outside of the friendly confines in Durham.
Injury-plagued shooting struggles during his junior season did not move the needle much for Allen. As a senior, he regained his captaincy and improved his percentages from the field, but still struggled with consistency.
All of which made this weekend in Omaha the chance for Allen to mold his reputation one more time and cement his place in Blue Devil lore with another trip to the Final Four.
Instead, the senior was largely ineffective, shooting just 7-of-28 in the two games combined and missing 18 of his 23 attempts from beyond the arc. Time and time again, Duke had looks it would certainly live with, but simply could not sink enough to pull ahead of the guard-heavy Jayhawks.
“I still shoot the same shots and expect them to go in,” Allen said. “A lot of them hit the rim twice, bounced around. But, I mean, I’m still going to take the open shots. That’s our offense. That’s a Duke shot when I take an open three.”
As easy as it is to look at the box score and pin blame on Allen’s shoulders, Sunday’s performance by the Blue Devils was a testament to some of the strides Allen has made with his teammates off the floor.
Consider that a team playing four freshman starters stood pound-for-pound with a blueblood starting all upperclassmen without batting an eye for nearly 40 minutes. In many ways, Allen’s biggest value to the team was shepherding his younger teammates into the right spots and putting them in position to shine.
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“I came in kind of late in the beginning of the year and I wasn’t here in the summer. When I got here, Grayson was the one kind of talking to me about how things go around, how the workouts are and just telling me his experiences,” freshman Marvin Bagley III said. “It hurts that we couldn’t get it done for him.”
When asked before the year at ACC media day about what would constitute success for the season, Allen had a singular goal in mind—getting the team to play together.
Although it took a lot longer than many expected as Duke battled through an inconsistent ACC campaign, the Blue Devils certainly grew as a group and reached the level of togetherness typically seen with Duke’s best teams.
“He did a great job of interacting with this young group and helped them grow,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I especially thought the relationship that he has with Marvin was the key for us getting as good as we were. You’re a shot away, a roll away, from being in the Final Four, and so much of it has to do with their relationship and his leadership.”
Despite the team reaching Allen’s goal of playing together, the Blue Devils hold themselves to a championship standard, and there will be no Final Four banner coming to Durham.
Allen’s most memorable moments will be his first ones for many, with the scrappy guard diving for a loose ball against Wisconsin. His career will always include a national championship. But there’s not always a happy end to the story.
For the time being, though, the senior is left reflecting on a career that felt like it lasted an eternity until it was slammed shut in a matter of minutes.
“It’s a lot of joy and happiness when I look back,” Allen said. “From an outside perspective, it might look like I went through hell for a bit and it kind of felt like it there in the middle. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”