CHICAGO — On a night in which college basketball was in desperate need of just about anything to divert the attention away from an FBI probe and players being arrested for shoplifting, it was Grayson Allen who delivered.
It was supposed to be an opportunity for college hoops fans to get their first true taste of Duke’s bandied-about freshman class, the one that featured possible No. 1 pick Marvin Bagley III, and a few more potential first-rounders come June in Wendell Carter Jr., Trevon Duval, and Gary Trent Jr.
Instead, it was the guy who wasn’t supposed to still call Durham home, a player who has faced as much scrutiny as any that has hit a college campus in recent years for a trio of tripping incidents.
The kid everyone loves to hate.
With Bagley clinging to the bench with his right eye nearly swollen shut and Duke’s other trio of heralded frosh unable to make perimeter shots, Allen was sensational, finishing with 37 points and knocking down a pair of 3-pointers late in the game to seal the 88-81 win over Michigan State.
Allen, who told ESPN prior to the season that he needed to harness his emotions and earn the respect of a talented freshman class ranked No. 1 in the country, did that and far more. He was virtually unstoppable, and extremely efficient while playing all 40 minutes — 11-of-20 from the field, 7-of-11 from beyond the arc and 8-of-8 from the line as the No. 1 Blue Devils knocked off No. 2 Michigan State in the Champions Classic on Tuesday night.
Allen started slow, and it was Bagley and Michigan State freshman big man Jaren Jackson Jr., who made their presence felt early in the contest. However, with Duke leading 19-12 at the 10:09 mark, Bagley was hit in the eye by teammate Javin DeLaurier and the Blue Devils appeared to have lost momentum.
Bagley III lay on the court for several minutes before being taken to the locker room. He didn’t return to the court until the second half — when he sat on the bench for the final 20 minutes and watched Allen dominate the game. Duke had momentum, and Bagley was imposing his will on the game, scoring four points and grabbing six rebounds in 10 minutes.
Allen got help in the second half from Duval, who struggled with his perimeter shot — but was able to utilize his speed and quickness to get into the lane and also out in transition. But this was all about Allen’s presence and Bagley’s absence.
This wasn’t Elon or Utah Valley, the Blue Devils first two victims. This was a Michigan State squad that features Preseason National Player of the Year Miles Bridges and Jackson — one of the promising young big men in the country. This was a team coached by a Hall of Famer in Tom Izzo.
But at the end, the spotlight didn’t shine on Bridges, or Bagley. It was on the kid who still calls Durham home, the one who could have left and didn’t, the one who returned in hopes of adding another championship ring on his hand.