Duke had a trio of 20-point scorers on Wednesday, enough offensive firepower to overwhelm an opponent in a postseason game.
It’s just as Mike Krzyzewski and his coaching staff planned last summer when they analyzed their roster loaded with McDonald’s All-Americans. It’s what pollsters and prognosticators expected when they anointed Duke as the nation’s No. 1-ranked team in the preseason and the favorite to win the NCAA championship.
But what No. 14 Duke showed on Wednesday is not that team. Not anymore.
Junior guard Grayson Allen always figured to be in the plans when Duke would be playing its best.
On Wednesday in the ACC tournament’s second day at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, Allen had one more technical foul than he did points.
It didn’t kill Duke though.
“It wasn’t a good afternoon for him individually,” Krzyzewski said. “Collectively, obviously, it was a great afternoon for us.”
With Allen, the preseason ACC player of the year, going scoreless in a reserve role, freshman Frank Jackson started and scored 20 points.
Freshman Jayson Tatum, projected as a lottery pick in this summer’s NBA Draft, also scored 20. And sophomore guard Luke Kennard, Duke’s steadiest player all season, scored in bunches late to tally 20 after a poor shooting start.
All that was enough for Duke, the ACC tournament’s No. 5-seeded team, to outlast Clemson 79-72 to advance into Thursday’s tournament quarterfinals.
Still slowed by a nagging ankle injury and distracted by another outburst -- slamming the ball and cursing after being called for a foul -- that earned him his fourth technical foul of the season on Wednesday, Allen played just 12 minutes. He missed all four of his shots.
“I think the injury is a huge part of it because he has not been able to really go after it in practice and he’s lost his timing, his rhythm,” Krzyzewski said.
Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils still believe Allen will be a key part of their March run in a positive way.
“We’ve got to get him going,” Krzyzewski said. “These guys will help him because they are good teammates.”
But in the meantime, Jackson’s play has continued its upward trajectory.
He made 7 of 10 shots against Clemson and drilled both of his 3-point attempts. He’s started Duke’s last four games and has scored in double figures in each of them.
“Frank has been playing really well lately, he’s been kind of our x-factor,” Duke senior guard Matt Jones said. “He’s given us that spark. Obviously he’s really quick. He’s that positionless player that we really needed. He’s fearless.”
Tatum made 7 of 15 shots. While he made just 1 of 7 3-pointers, he sank all five of his free throws. He grabbed nine rebounds and dished out four assists while playing 39 minutes.
The passing part caught Krzyzewski’s attention. He thinks Kennard, who had two assists against Clemson, and Tatum can make Duke’s offense even better by contributing to ball movement.
“He and Jayson can really pass, even while they’re on the move,” Krzyzewski said. “While they’re on the move they can still pass. I’d like to see us do that a little bit better.”
If that comes together and if Allen regains his lost shooting touch and if Duke’s freshmen keep playing as well as they have been, well, more teams than Thursday’s opponent, Louisville, will be in trouble.