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'Just truly grateful': Duke men's basketball's AJ Griffin breaks out against Lafayette

Freshman AJ Griffin scored 18 points on a 7-of-10 mark from the field against Lafayette.
Freshman AJ Griffin scored 18 points on a 7-of-10 mark from the field against Lafayette.

College basketball, meet AJ Griffin. 

He may have been a little late to the party, but Griffin kicked the door down, barged in and announced his presence with authority Friday night against Lafayette. The Blue Devils crushed the Leopards 88-55 behind double-digit scoring from five different players, none being more important to the team’s future success than the 18 points Griffin contributed. And after the journey the New York native has had, he had every right to take it in.  

“I just looked at my teammates, I just looked at the baseline, and stuff like that. Just enjoying the moment really, because without them I wouldn't even have that moment,” Griffin said. “So I'm just truly grateful for that.”

For context, Griffin missed most of his last two years of high school with knee and ankle injuries, and a knee sprain in October sidelined him for a couple weeks in the preseason. He had not scored over five points in a game this year, and after coming in as a highly-touted recruit and projected lottery pick, he had fallen into the background during Duke’s first four games. 

But the script flipped Friday night.

Griffin posted 18 points on a ridiculous 70% mark from the field. Of Griffin’s total points, 14 of them came during the second half. The Archbishop Stepinac alum shot 4-of-6 from beyond the arc, with all four makes coming in the final 20 minutes. And if his final line at the end of the night wasn’t enough on its own, Griffin wasn’t simply shooting wide-open shots at a standstill. 

He made two buckets around the rim after flashing some post moves, pulled up from the elbow and set up shop at both wings to hit his threes and prove he can score from all three levels. It’s tough to decide if Griffin’s second or third step-back 3-ball was better. The earlier one included a between-the-legs dribble move to put the Lafayette defender in a spin cycle, but the Cameron Crazies seemed to have more of an affinity for the latter one considering the raucous cheers that erupted. 

For a final cherry on top of what will be looked back on as Griffin’s breakout game, he fed center Theo John the ball in the low post. When Griffin’s defender collapsed down on John, Griffin kept his spacing out at the 3-point line, and calmly stroked the passback from John for his final points of the night. 

“To say I’m proud of him is an understatement. I’ve seen the work he’s put in. I’ve seen everything he’s been going through,” captain Wendell Moore Jr. said. 

Everybody in attendance and watching on TV saw Griffin at the mountaintop, but there has been a lot of work and hours spent working back from all the injuries.

“He's getting in shape. And he was out for two and a half weeks. And just so you know, in high school he didn't play for two years,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “So this is a big learning curve, but he's in better shape right now...”

“He’s got one of the softest shots,” Krzyzewski added.

For Griffin, getting back to the level he was at prior to his high school injuries has been a gradual road.  

“I think tonight was a huge step and I think I felt the support from everyone…. There’s been multiple days when you put in the work and then you don’t see the results but you never know when that breakthrough is coming,” Griffin said, thanking Jesus Christ and his support system for helping him stay the course. 

Well, that breakthrough came Friday night. 

Griffin says it all starts with comfort, something assistant coach Chris Carrawell mentioned to him after he made his second 3-pointer of the game with five minutes remaining. The comfort and confidence feed each other, and that leads to the big nights like Friday’s game.

“I feel like [Friday] was the most I’ve felt comfortable so far and I’ve felt it leading up each game,” Griffin said. “You start to see the mistakes you make, and then you correct them and that’s what working with the coaches, them helping me see those little things that you need to get better at, and that’s what it’s all about.”

So far, the Duke faithful have gotten to see a number of players take over games, one of which being Trevor Keels, who has coined the term “Keel Mode.”

But what about when Griffin takes over?

“I don't know what you guys could call it. You can leave that to the fans, really. They come up with that naturally. You see in the comments or wherever,” Griffin said with a chuckle. 

Maybe there’s not a catchy phrase for Griffin yet, but after a performance like Friday’s, there will be soon.

Jake C. Piazza

Jake Piazza is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.


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