In games that counted, Grayson Allen continued to build off of last year’s national championship game, scoring 26 points as Duke beat Siena 92-74.
Part of the reason for that, though, was thanks to lessons learned after a poor performance in Duke’s first exhibition game.
“I was just too serious, came out trying too hard,” Allen said of that first exhibition game, in which he scored just nine points. “We’re doing it in practice, we’re just having fun. This is a game that I love, so I don’t need to come out here and worry about trying too hard. My best effort will come with having fun.”
Allen’s effort in Duke’s season opener Friday night is deserving of the “best” category. In his first career start – crazy, but true – Allen picked up where he left off and then some. The scoring was still there, but instead of it coming unexpectedly from the fifth option on the floor or in the second half of a blowout against Wake Forest, it came as the lead wolf, alpha male, bus driver – whichever descriptor one prefers.
“G has always been talented, he has always been able to do that,” junior guard Matt Jones said. “This year, he just has more opportunity.”
With authority, Allen took a rebound the length of the floor, palming the ball with his right hand and taking off in between the free-throw line and the newly expanded four-foot arc under the basket and finishing with a one-handed slam.
With flair, he held the follow on his first 3-pointer as it circled around and around the rim before dropping, as Allen snapped his wrist and pulled in his thumb and index finger, extending the other three wide in the air. Those were five of his 20-first half points, which came on an efficient 6-for-9 shooting from the floor.
Perhaps his loudest cheer, though, came in the second half. Marshall Plumlee elevated his 7-foot frame to catch a pass along the right sideline before finding a streaking Allen in the paint. With no regard for any of the Siena defenders, Allen ripped down another one-handed slam for points 25 and 26, his final bucket of the night (he was just shy of his career-high of 27, set in that blowout of the Demon Deacons in the final home game of last season).
“We brought 30 people on a charter plane, and that was, like, unbelievable for us, to see Cameron,” said Siena coach Jimmy Patsos, a longtime assistant to Gary Williams at Maryland. “Of course, on Grayson Allen’s dunk they really got to see Cameron.”
Allen’s 8-for-8 performance from the free-throw line is as important as any stat for the Blue Devils – for the offense to be effective, Allen needs to be driving aggressively, inevitably drawing fouls in the process.
And on many of those drives, the ball was palmed in his right hand, giving some flashbacks to last season, when Jahlil Okafor made the ball look like a Skittle in his huge hand. It wasn’t quite that dramatic for Allen – maybe it looked more like a softball in a baseball mitt – but the point still stands nonetheless.
“I’ve always had pretty big hands,” Allen said. “I might have the biggest hands on the team.”
That debate will have to be settled another day. But more immediately, Allen will attempt his greatest challenge of this season: to duplicate his best effort on a consistent basis. One thing is certain, though: it won’t come as a result of being too serious.