Fifty Shades of Grayson Allen

By Eli Schwadron

I’ll be honest: I wanted a Kentucky-Michigan State final. 

And not just because I picked the pair to match up in one of the three pools I entered.   

I hate Duke. I always have. As a Maryland fan growing up, it was ingrained in me from an early age that Duke is pure evil; the Terrapins and the Blue Devils had some serious battles in the early 2000s. 

And I’m sorry, but I couldn’t subscribe to the “root for Wisconsin because they’re in the Big Ten” theory. Sure, it’s a good look for the conference when one of its 14 teams makes it to a national championship. But I choose to subscribe instead to the “screw every other team in my favorite team’s division or conference” theory.

But I digress. There was a basketball game last night.

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People love to harp on the importance of tournament experience when it comes to winning an NCAA championship.

While it’s certainly a factor, the biggest story of Duke’s 68-63 win over Wisconsin on Monday night was the sensational play of freshmen guards Tyus Jones and Grayson Allen. The Blue Devils’ one-two punch of Jones and Allen dropped 23 and 16 points respectively en route to head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s fifth national title.

The first half was a fast-paced, neck-and-neck affair with 13 lead changes. Jones and Quinn Cook set the run-and-gun tempo by pushing the ball at every opportunity. Both teams struggled to find a groove offensively; the track-meet vibe almost made it seem more like a pick-up game at the ARC than a Division I title game. Wisconsin, usually solid from the free throw line, struggled from the charity stripe throughout the opening 20 minutes. 

The Badgers jumped out to an early lead in the second half, but Duke clawed back into the game thanks to an unlikely hero: the aforementioned Allen. 

The 6-foot-4, Jacksonville native defined the term “spark plug,” hustling for every ball and doing whatever it took to get to the rim. He brought the Blue Devils back from down nine points by going on an individual 8-0 run while Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow were on the bench due to foul trouble.

For a little bit more perspective on what a special night it was for the youngster: Allen averaged only four points per game this season. He hit five baskets for 16 points in last night’s win; he cashed in on just five buckets for 18 points the entire rest of the tournament. He’s a sure bet to break out into a bona fide star for Coach K next season. 

And Tyus Jones was outstanding. The lighting-quick point guard shot his jumper with confidence — he went 7-of-13 from the field — and solidified himself in the canon of Duke point guards by earning Most Outstanding Player of the tournament. 

Frank Kaminsky, who was recently awarded National Player of the Year honors, dropped 20 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in Saturday night’s upset over Kentucky. Frank the Tank continued his terrific play against Duke, going for 21 and 12. Wisconsin’s big man posed problems for Jahlil Okafor, as the latter racked up four fouls and left the game with 9:17 remaining in regulation. 

Winslow also found himself in foul trouble, but luckily for the Blue Devils, Jones and Allen picked up the slack while they were out by combining for one of the most impressive guard performances of any NCAA championship.

Okafor only had 10 points on the night, but the Chicago native dropped a quick four when he returned to the floor with three minutes left. 

The Blue Devils played lockdown defense the rest of the way and finished strong to nab their second championship in six years.

As much as it pains me to say it: Congrats, Duke. Congrats, Coach K. You’re a legendary program with a legendary coach. There’s no two ways about it. And you bet I’ll be keeping an eye on Grayson Allen next year. I’m sure the rest of the nation will be, as well.

Eli is a junior in Media.