The foot that’s been bothering Grayson Allen since mid-November is no longer a problem.
The junior guard has been battling the pain associated with turf toe since then, keeping him from games – and even from practicing.
A day after his first practice in five weeks, Allen scored a career-high 34 points as Duke beat UNLV, 94-45, on Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. It was the site’s first college basketball game, marking the 25-year anniversary of Duke upsetting the Runnin’ Rebels in the semifinal game of the 1991 Final Four. UNLV entered that game undefeated.
Allen found a spark after knocking down his first 3-pointer of the day at the 17-minute mark of the first half. Sophomore Luke Kennard secured the defensive rebound, pushed it down the floor and kicked it out to Allen.
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Allen broke Duke in double digits when he saved a ball that nearly got trapped in a UNLV defenders’ arms, scoring inside.
By halftime, he had 15 points, and he dunked three times Saturday. He flew up the lane midway through the first half for a ferocious, one-handed slam that forced him to fall on his landing. Allen drew cheers as he came out of the game following a putback dunk with 6:23 left, Duke up nearly 40 points.
“I felt good today going into the game,” Allen said. “And really just got it going early and tried to keep it going from then. I think the crowd energized us and the atmosphere of the team energized us. I’m feeling better. The rest in between the games has really helped me out. Being able to practice a little this week I think helped.”
Allen shot 12-of-16 from the floor, including 6-of-9 from long range, helping spur a Duke team to beat an undermatched UNLV club, despite their history.
It was the fourth meeting all-time between the teams, the last in the 1991 Final Four en route to Mike Krzyzewski’s first national championship. The year before, UNLV had defeated Duke by 30 points for the largest margin of victory in an NCAA title game. Saturday’s game attracted a standing-room-only crowd of 19,107.
Allen may still be easing his way in; he played 29 minutes and still hasn’t practiced. Kennard added 16 points to the victory. Jayson Tatum (13) and Amile Jefferson (10) rounded off Duke’s double-figure scorers.
Krzyzewski worked in two of the previously injured freshmen, Frank Jackson running the point after Matt Jones picked up his fourth foul in the second half. Tatum and Marques Bolden played in their third college games, and they shared the floor with Jackson and Javin DeLaurier once Duke managed a 30-point lead on the hometown team.
Duke went on an 18-0 run on nine straight shots starting at 16:32 in the second.
Chase Jeter, who hadn’t started since Duke’s trip to the Hall of Fame Tip-Off last month, was in the starting lineup. It was a homecoming game for the Vegas native.
UNLV (5-4) struggled down low in the first half, scoring 10 points in the paint before the break. The Runnin’ Rebels committed 21 turnovers, 13 in the first half. Duke scored 22 points off turnovers and shot 70 percent in the second half.
“We prepared well,” Krzyzewski said. “I thought we were passionate about playing today.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan