The numbers suggested that if Duke won the national college basketball championship, a freshman would lead the way, and that’s what happened.
But not one expected to jump to the NBA next season.
Why would Grayson Allen leave anyway? He’ll be the big man on campus for years to come after Monday’s performance in the Blue Devils’ 68-63 triumph over Wisconsin.
Allen, a reserve who averaged four points a game on the season, on Monday scored 16 — and all of the big ones during a stretch when the game looked lost for the Blue Devils.
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Allen’s eight straight points, starting with a three-pointer with a shade under 13 minutes remaining, stopped the Badgers’ surge. Their lead had grown to 48-39. Everything was working for Frank Kaminsky and Wisconsin.
Surely, Allen’s triple by itself would only delay the inevitable.
But Allen didn’t stop there. He came up with a steal of Traevon Jackson and finished the possession with an old-fashioned three-point play.
The Badgers stemmed the tide with Nigel Hayes’ three-pointer, but Allen wasn’t deterred. He was fouled going to the basket and made both.
“We were dead in the water,” Krzyzewski said. “We’re nine points down, and he put us on his back.”
When the Allen run was finished, a revitalized Duke trailed 51-47. The bench was springy and intense. Wisconsin was on its heels. Allen had made that happen, and it seemed fitting that his drive a few minutes later would give the Blue Devils their first lead of the half at 56-54.
At this point, the Duke stars brought it home. Tyus Jones, outstanding throughout the night with 19 of his 23 in the second half and voted the Final Four’s most outstanding player, gave the Blue Devils the lead for good with an off-balance three with 4:06 remaining.
Jahlil Okafor, the wonderfully athletic freshman center who figures to be one of the top two players taken in this year’s NBA Draft, emerged from foul trouble to score four straight points.
That was it, and after the buzzer, Allen wasn’t exactly sure what had happened.
“It doesn’t feel real right now,” Allen said. “For me, dreaming of being here, to have this my first year at Duke, it’s amazing.”
Grayson figured to be a contributor this season. He was a McDonald’s All-America and ranked No. 28 in the Rivals.com 2014 class, one spot ahead of Kentucky’s Devin Booker.
But he had to fight for minutes on a team with so much talent, especially with Jones and senior Quinn Cook.
In the end, a team loaded with freshmen talent prevailed. Most figured it would be Kentucky, which arrived at the Final Four undefeated. But Duke stood atop the stage under a confetti shower, and on the ladder cutting nets in championship caps and T-shirts. Freshmen scored 60 of the 69 points and all 37 in the second half for the Blue Devils.
The final snip was saved for Krzyzewski, the coaching mastermind behind all five of Duke’s national championships.
College basketball has evolved dramatically over the past quarter-century, but Coach K and championships remain a constant.
The fifth championship breaks a tie with Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp, and leaves Krzyzewski alone in second place behind UCLA’s John Wooden, who won 10 during 1964-1975.
In the Wooden years, the NCAA Tournament bracket grew from 25 to 32 teams. By the time a Krzyzewski-coached team appeared in its first Final Four, the seeded bracket had swelled to 64 teams.
Wooden’s Bruins never needed more than four victories to capture a national title, and not until the end of his run were teams placed outside of their geographic area for the regionals.
Still, Wooden’s teams won 38 straight NCAA Tournament games. Translated into today’s bracket, to match that accomplishment a team would have to win six straight titles. Next on the list of consecutive NCAA Tournament victories is Duke, which won 13 straight in the early 1990s.
“John Wooden is separate from everybody,” Krzyzewski said.
Krzyzewski, 68, who became the first coach to surpass 1,000 career victories this season, becomes the second-oldest coach to win an NCAA title. Jim Calhoun was nine months older than Krzyzewski when he won his third at Connecticut in 2011, and Krzyzewski passed Kansas’ Phog Allen, who was 66 when the Jayhawks won the 1952 title.
Also, no program in college basketball can match Duke’s longevity of consistent success. The quarter-century between first and latest titles — and with eight of Coach K’s Final Four coming since his first championship — is the longest stretch under one coach in the game’s history.
“Mike Krzyzewski, if not the best coach of all time, is one of the best,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said earlier Monday.
Duke’s championship occurred without an ACC regular-season or tournament title, making this moment all the more satisfying.
“The ability to adapt is a key to everything,” Krzyzewski said. “I think I’ve adapted well.”
For Wisconsin, the loss was crushing. National player of the year Frank Kaminsky produced another fabulous effort with 21 points and 12 rebounds. But he looked gassed down the stretch. Once the Blue Devils took a 59-58 lead on Jones’ three-pointer with four minutes remaining, the Badgers never regained the lead.
Coach Bo Ryan maintained his reputation as a straight shooter as he processed the loss. He didn’t like the way the game was officiated. The Badgers entered the game having committed the fewest fouls per game (12.5). They were called for 15, all but two in the second half.
Ryan said he thought his players who were called for fouls were in good position.
“Sometimes games are played differently and you have to go with the flow,” Ryan said.
Later, when talking about his upperclassmen, he took swipe at the game’s one-and-done culture.
“We don’t do rent-a-player,” Ryan said. “You know what I mean?”
The frustration wasn’t a good look for Ryan. Duke figures to lose Okafor and Jones, but the one who became Duke’s catalyst isn’t a one-and-done. Wisconsin couldn’t stop Allen and blew a nine-point lead. That’s how the Badgers lost the national championship.