Luke DeCock

Grayson Allen's shot rolls off the rim, and Blue Devils' moment slips away

Duke's Grayson Allen's last second shot in regulation does not fall

Watch a time-lapse of the last second shot attempt by Duke's Grayson Allen at the end of regulation of Kansas' 85-81 overtime victory over the Blue Devils in the Midwest Regional Final at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb. Sunday, March 25, 2018.
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Watch a time-lapse of the last second shot attempt by Duke's Grayson Allen at the end of regulation of Kansas' 85-81 overtime victory over the Blue Devils in the Midwest Regional Final at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb. Sunday, March 25, 2018.

The moment had arrived, and it was the one Grayson Allen had waited for his entire career. The ball in his hands, the clock expiring, a trip to the Final Four on the line. From the left side of the lane, his shot hit the inside of the front of the rim, then back off the foot of the rim, then skipped twice off the rim.

And out.

That was the moment, Duke's best chance to win, to advance to the Final Four, to give this team a banner to hang. It turned out to be Duke's last chance.

Overtime was all Kansas, much to the delight of the pro-Jayhawks crowd that witnessed one of the great regional finals of all time, an 85-81 Kansas win that see-sawed back and forth so many times it left you dizzy with anticipation of what might come next.

But the Blue Devils couldn't match the big shots of Malik Newman, and when Trevon Duval's 3-pointer to tie the score in the final minute of overtime – wide open, in the right corner – bounced off the rim, the hopes and dreams of this Duke team went with it.

“It's like a shock to your body,” Allen said. “You don't plan for a loss. You just expect to keep going and going. It's so abrupt when it hits you: just boom, it's over. I can't really wrap my head around it yet.”

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Wendell Carter Jr. sat teary-eyed on the bench, a towel over his head at one point after fouling out early in overtime trying to draw a charge, a call that could have gone either way and went against Duke – the merits of the call, by an ACC referee, will be endlessly debated, but so will Carter's decision to take a charge in that situation.

So much of what had made Duke great this season misfired on Sunday. Carter's foul trouble allowed Kansas to smother Marvin Bagley III, who was limited to nine field-goal attempts. And the Blue Devils couldn't capitalize on the extra space on the perimeter, going 7-for-29 from 3-point range.

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Allen and Carter and Bagley III and Duval and Gary Trent Jr. will all presumably exit the scene now, with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski denied a record 13th Final Four. There will be no more chances for them. This was a one-shot deal, and the realization that they had fallen short hung heavy in the air as Kansas sprinted onto the floor to celebrate.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski talks about the Blue Devils' overtime loss to Kansas in the NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional Final at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb. Sunday, March 25, 2018.

Devonté Graham was among them, tackled to the floor by his teammates, his strange journey from Raleigh to Kansas complete with the Final Four appearance that had eluded him to this point. The senior knew this was his last chance, too.

That's the thing that gets lost in the one-and-done discussion, above and beyond what it means for the larger game of college basketball. For these kids, there's one shot.

That's it.

This was Allen's fourth shot at it, and third as a key member of the team, even if he became one in the middle of his freshman year. This was Graham's fourth shot at it. He fell short the first three times, twice in regional finals.

But this was Bagley's only chance. Carter's only chance. Probably the same for Trent and Duval.

For players like these, who arrive in a sandstorm of hype, there is no next year. Kentucky's freshmen in 2015 might have had the greatest season a group of one-and-dones ever had, but even the Final Four wasn't good enough for them given the scale of expectations they faced – and it's Duke's one-and-done freshmen who left their mark that season, winning the title the Wildcats couldn't.

There's no legacy to leave now. These freshmen come and go, and their time at Duke -- or anywhere else -- is just like footprints in the sand. The next wave of talent washes them away, until they're all but forgotten. How many stories are told about Brandon Ingram or Jabari Parker these days? But Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow carved out their own place in history.

Duke's Grayson Allen and Marvin Bagley III talk about the Blue Devils' overtime loss to Kansas in the NCAA Tournament Elite 8 in the Midwest Regional Final at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb. Sunday, March 25, 2018.

Next year's Duke freshmen, the top three players in the country and Tyus Jones' brother, will face the same all-or-nothing pressure. There's no using this experience to get better for next year when there is no next year.

As a No. 2 seed, Duke actually went as far as the Blue Devils were supposed to go, but this team was meant for more from the beginning. And just when it looked like it might have unlocked its full potential, it ran into a better team. Not a more talented one. But a better one.

"When you have a great game, usually you have two teams that are deserving of winning but only one wins," Krzyzewski said.

Afterward, in an otherwise teary locker room, Carter was philosophical about his fifth foul. Newman had been tearing the Blue Devils apart, and Carter saw a chance to make a big, momentum-swinging play, to set the tone for overtime.

“I thought that was the perfect opportunity to give our team the ball,” Carter said. “The ref made a fantastic call. No matter what I think, how I felt about it, he made the right call. I have respect for that call.”

Carter mentioned that he had tried the same thing, with four fouls, against Florida State. It worked that time. Why not again?

“I just thought that was my moment,” Carter said. “It just kind of slipped through my fingers.”

Duke freshman Wendell Carter Jr. was plagued with foul trouble throughout the Blue Devils loss to the Kansas Jayhawks in the NCAA Elite 8.

That's how Duke felt. It ends here, short of San Antonio, without consolation. The Blue Devils had their chances Sunday, but they only had one shot at this season with this team. When Allen's shot rolled off the rim, it just kind of slipped through their fingers.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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