Grayson Allen had a few stops to make after his career day in Las Vegas.
He chatted with ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale. Then he did a postgame interview for television and was the last player on the floor at T-Mobile Arena.
When he was done, he ran back to the locker room, sure to embrace the crowd of Duke fans waiting for their last chance to see him before he disappeared through the tunnel.
Allen, who scored a career-high 34 points against UNLV this past Saturday, wouldn’t have a chance to rest his foot until after a flurry of media questions outside of his locker. There, he assured everyone he was all right, as if his performance against the Runnin’ Rebels didn’t make that clear enough.
Allen practiced for the first time in five weeks just a day before Duke met UNLV for the first college basketball game at T-Mobile in Vegas. He hadn’t been well enough after nagging foot issues. Allen, forced to play a bit more conservatively than he’s grown accustomed to, rested during the Maine game Dec. 3. Battling turf toe, he still tried to make the explosive plays that helped him garner preseason ACC player of the year nods.
“I think he’s trying so hard. Again, he does not practice,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said after Allen shot 2-of-10 in Duke’s 84-74 win over Florida on Dec. 6. “I think he wants it so bad that he’s rushing it.”
Today was the first day he could extend. He was making all the plays he could.
The junior guard has seemed to overextend at times, trying to make plays and score in ways he couldn’t because he was injured. Still providing valuable contributions, Allen distributed more, a mentality that started during Duke’s Hall of Fame Tip-Off trip in mid-November. He dished eight assists against Florida and averages a team-best 3.8 a game (though forward Amile Jefferson has led Duke in assists in two games this season).
Saturday, Allen turned it on early, guiding Duke to a 94-45 win over UNLV in the midst of the 25-year anniversary of the teams’ last meeting: the 1991 Final Four. Allen shot 12-of-16 from the floor, going 6-of-9 from three-point range. This time, one assist; Duke passed out 18 assists to UNLV’s six, and only three players of the 10 who played for Duke didn’t finish with at least one.
Allen nailed four second-half 3s and finished the game with three dunks, including one where he flew up the lane off a feed from senior Matt Jones for a ruthless finish. Allen scored 12 of Duke’s 50 points in the paint that day, with everything else coming from behind the arc. He added four rebounds and had two turnovers in 29 minutes.
He opened his scoring campaign with a 3-pointer at the 17:04 mark of the first half, going on to score an early nine points over a three-minute span.
“He’s back – that’s what I told him,” said guard Luke Kennard while Allen playfully flexed his muscles. “He’s going to build off of this. We’re going to build off of this as a team”
When Allen wrapped up his final set of interviews, a trainer examined his taped-up right foot. Allen is valuing this week’s exam period. Duke won’t play again until it hosts Tennessee State on Monday. A little more than a week ago, Krzyzewski said because of its injuries, Duke appears to be in “October mode” when everyone else is on December.
“It’s getting better and we’re hoping this stretch, this break that we have coming up will get it to 100 percent and be good enough to not have to worry about it,” Allen said, addressing his toe.
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan
Tennessee State at Duke
When: 7 p.m. Monday
Where: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham