The boos rained down every time Grayson Allen touched the ball.
He responded with a scoring effort reminiscent of last season, when he was first-team all-ACC and averaged 21.6 points per game.
Alas, his 23-point, nine-rebound game went for naught on Saturday as No. 7 Duke (14-4, 2-3 ACC) lost its third ACC road matchup this season, this one to No. 14 Louisville 78-69.
Allen is college basketball’s Public Enemy No. 1. He earned that label by thrice tripping opposing players between February and December 2016.
So when Virginia Tech fans chanted “We want Gray-son” in sing-song style on Dec. 31, even though Allen was serving a one-game suspension for his misdeeds, it was expected.
When Florida State students chanted an obscene phrase (“blank you, Grayson”) throughout Duke’s 88-72 road loss to the Seminoles last Tuesday, it was expected.
And when Louisville’s crowd booed him throughout Saturday’s game, well, that’s his new reality. They also chanted “Sweep the leg” when he shot free throws and “Grayson sucks!” at other times.
“I don't think about it,” Allen said. “I only worry about the guys who are playing the game, not the people who are watching.”
A reporter asked Blue Devils acting head coach Jeff Capel after the Louisville (15-3, 3-2) game if that was as hostile a crowd as Allen has seen.
“Nah,” Capel said. “I think this was tame.”
Louisville’s Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino, no stranger to catching vile from opposing fans himself, offered Allen some words of encouragement on the court after the game. He followed that up in his postgame comments to reporters.
“You can bury a young man,” Pitino said. “So this is all about preserving a young man. I happen to think – I happen to know – he’s a terrific young man who keeps making these mistakes when he does something wrong. He’ll cure it. Believe me, that kid’s paying the price in different ways. You hear the crowds everywhere he goes. He’s the modern-day Christian Laettner right now.”
Laettner, however, embraced the hate while Allen doesn’t necessarily love it. Plus, Laettner is college basketball’s winningest player, based on four Final Four trips, three NCAA title game appearances and two national championships.
Allen was a major factor when Duke beat Wisconsin in the 2015 NCAA Tournament final with his play off the bench in the second half.
While Allen isn’t solely responsible for Duke’s tepid 2-3 start to ACC play, the Blue Devils haven’t been themselves – capable of ruining opposing team’s nights – over the last two seasons.
So Allen has work to do to add to his legacy at Duke. He is giving it the full effort this season, accepting the challenge to transition from lead scorer to facilitating point guard when needed. He’s had games where he picks up three or four assists before he takes his first shot.
On Saturday at Louisville, he finished with just three assists while turning the ball over six times. As productive as he was, his turnovers hurt Duke.
A key player on a young team, Allen needs to be steady and play with poise because the freshmen around him aren’t capable of doing that yet.
Freshman Jayson Tatum, for example, hit just 3 of 11 shots, turned the ball over three times and committed four fouls in the game’s first 28 minutes.
Allen knows Duke needs more and, despite the outside pressure on him, he is steadfast in his plan to deliver.
“I think the leaders that we do have, we have to do a job of leading them,” Allen said. “We can't just expect them to know from the start. The whole teams needs to step up.”
Steve Wiseman: 919-419-6671, @stevewisemanNC