Brandon Ingram can be hard to read. Quiet by nature, he isn’t normally openly expressive. Even his teammates don’t have great insight into his emotions over the course of a game.
“I’m always in his ear, always telling him to keep shooting because I don’t know what he’s thinking about,” sophomore guard Grayson Allen said of Ingram. “I’m always in his ear telling him to keep attacking. I mean, we really look to him to create. So we want to do that the whole game. We don’t care if he misses seven, eight shots in a row. We want him to keep trying and keep attacking.”
During one stretch in the first and second halves at North Carolina Wednesday night, Ingram did miss 10 of 11 shots. But when it mattered most, Duke put the ball in the hands of him and Allen, and the two led the Blue Devils to an improbable 74-73 victory.
Ingram, a freshman, finished with 20 points – 13 in the second half – and he and Allen (team-high 23 points) scored 72 percent of the Blue Devils’ second half points.
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“We hung in there,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We just hung in there, and we started going kind of exclusively to Brandon and Grayson in some (isolations).”
The No. 20 Blue Devils (20-6, 9-4 ACC) trailed by eight points, 68-60, with 6:49 left in the game. The Tar Heels (21-5, 10-3), though, would only score five more points. Duke played its straight man-to-man defense, and UNC chose to play to its weakness and had Joel Berry and Marcus Paige attempt (and miss) jump shots. The Tar Heels’ two guards shot a combined 4-of-22 from the field. UNC ended the game on a 2-for-8 shooting stretch.
Meanwhile, Duke’s four healthy scholarship guards – Allen, Ingram, Luke Kennard and Derryck Thornton – all made key plays down the stretch. Ingram scored six points to help pull Duke out of the eight-point hole. Kennard hit a go-ahead 3 with 2:39 left to put Duke up 72-71. Kennedy Meeks put back a Paige missed 3 to temporarily give the Tar Heels a 73-72 edge, but two free throws from Allen put Duke ahead 74-73 with 69 seconds left.
“At the end of the game, when it’s close like that, we trust guys to make plays and make shots,” Allen said.
And Thornton provided perhaps the most timely play of all, blocking Berry’s last-ditch jump shot attempt with four seconds left on the clock. Allen grabbed the rebound and threw it up toward the rafters in celebration as time expired.
We hung in there. We just hung in there, and we started going kind of exclusively to Brandon and Grayson in some (isolations).
Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski
After hugging Krzyzewski, Allen ran toward junior guard Matt Jones, who was stuck on the Duke bench with crutches after spraining his left ankle during the first half. Jones grabbed Allen and Kennard into a tight bear hug. Without Jones, Allen, Kennard, Thornton and Ingram played all 20 minutes of the second half.
Just before the under-8-minute media timeout of the first half, Jones had driven toward the basket, jumped just outside of the paint and landed awkwardly. Instead of the bottom of his foot hitting the ground first, he landed on his ankle and stayed down. Jones lay on his stomach in pain as Brice Johnson polished off a lay-up at the other end of the court to put the Tar Heels up 30-24.
The game stopped, and Krzyzewski and Duke trainer Jose Fonseca went to the opposite end of the court to Jones. Krzyzewski knelt down talking to Jones as Fonseca loosened the shoelaces on Jones’ left shoe and felt along the outside of his ankle. Jones had to be helped off the court. Without putting weight on his left foot, he hopped alongside two Duke walk-ons who helped him to the Duke bench.
Once the under-4 minute media timeout came, Jones headed, still hopping, to the locker room with Justin Robinson and Brennan Besser helping support his weight on either side.
Duke scored on its first four possessions after Jones left the floor, cutting UNC’s lead to 44-42. The Tar Heels went into the half up 46-42.
After the game, Krzyzewski said Jones sprained his left ankle “pretty badly” and did not know how long he would be out. The Blue Devils knew by halftime that he at least would miss the rest of the game.
“Me and Matt are like brothers,” Allen said. “I knew he wanted to be out on the court so, so bad. And we didn’t have time to feel down for him in the game, but it was sad to see your brother go down like that. So I just wanted to find him and ran and gave him a hug, and he squeezed me as tight as he could and said how proud he was of me and Luke.”
There was no confusing Allen’s emotions after the game. Without Jones, he had to assume a more vocal role, gathering the Blue Devils together for on-court huddles during stoppages of play. And he continued to lead by example with his aggressive drives into the paint.
And Ingram took Allen’s halftime advice, shooting his shots in the second half and using his quickness and length to find space in the Tar Heels’ defense.
“There’s a lot of pressure on him, not just here,” Krzyzewski said of Ingram. “He’s 18, and he’s not ready to be who he will be. He’s pretty darn good. He’s also good enough not to let not hitting affect him. There’s a toughness element with that, you know like, ‘it’s not going to be my night – no, I’m going to work through it,’ but he really gave us a stretch there that was incredible.”
Ingram will never be the most talkative person in Duke’s locker room. But he does appear to be a good listener.