When Grayson Allen collected his fourth foul with 16 minutes left in the game at Wake Forest, Luke Kennard realized the circumstances were not ideal. Especially with Matt Jones already on the bench with four fouls, too.
“When Grayson picked up his fourth, I knew he had to come out,” Kennard said. “There was quite a bit of time left in the game. Right then, we just couldn’t panic.”
The Blue Devils Wednesday used an unorthodox four freshmen, one senior lineup for five minutes, and that group held serve before Duke ultimately ran away with a 91-75 win over the Demon Deacons. It was the type of victory that, in retrospect, might stand as a significant one, a moment when the Blue Devils found the edge of toughness that all successful teams need. But in the moment, the foul situation forced several players to adjust on the fly.
Allen regretted his bump of Wake Forest’s Cornelius Hudson the second the referee’s whistle rang. Fourteen seconds later Krzyzewski called a timeout to sub Chase Jeter in for Allen. This season, Allen is averaging 33.8 minutes per game, but he remembers his experience riding the bench for most of last year when he averaged a team-low 9.2 minutes.
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“For me, I just had to remind myself to stay in the game when you’re on the bench, cheering those guys on,” Allen said. “Being on the bench, me and Matt, Matt talked to me, ‘You’ve got four, you’re not out of the game, so stay in it.’ It’s just like going back to being on the bench, you have to stay in the game so when you get back out there, you’re ready.”
The players left on the court – Kennard, Jeter, Brandon Ingram, Derryck Thornton and Marshall Plumlee – had to make it work with a lineup combination Duke hadn’t used this season. They had, however, practiced unusual lineup combinations just in case a situation like this arose.
“We mix it up a lot (in practice). You never know what’s going to happen,” Kennard said. “We go over some stuff because we’re kind of short on guys that play.”
Allen joined Jones on the bench at the 15:50 mark with Duke up 58-54. Jones came back in for Jeter at the 11:06 mark with the Blue Devils ahead 63-58. And Allen replaced Jones at the 8:16 mark as Duke lead 67-63, and that was the lineup that ran the lead up to double digits as time ticked away.
Once Allen came back with his four fouls, he knew he had to play smart.
“Offensively, I can still drive,” he said. “I just have to come to a jump stop. I can’t be jumping forward to try and pick up a charge or going into the guy, giving the ref a chance to call something. A lot of the times, at the end, when I had four fouls, I was driving and looking to kick the ball so I didn’t pick up that fifth foul.”
Allen scored five points and recorded an assist and a steal while playing with four fouls. It probably won’t be the last time this season he has to play while in foul trouble – Jeter, the seventh man off the bench, played just five second-half minutes despite all of the Blue Devils’ foul issues. Duke has firmly established its six-man rotation, and not even two players with four fouls can disrupt it.
Expect to see more of the same six players as Duke faces Virginia Tech Saturday.