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Duke is no 'juggernaut,' but Grayson Allen is

NEW YORK -- You can start with the good news, because it is undeniably good news: Grayson Allen was incandescent. He exploded past perimeter defenders. He contorted his body for tough finishes at the rim. He made intelligent, aggressive decisions. He responded after a meek, 2-for-11 no-show against Kentucky on Tuesday with 75 minutes of unguardable confidence and verve.

In two games in three days in Madison Square Garden, Allen shot 9 of 14 from 3-point range and 18-of-27 from the field. He racked up 62 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists and three steals. He made key plays at crucial moments on both ends of the floor. And his team left its 2K Classic trip with two wins over two good teams -- especially the latter, Sunday afternoon's 84-82 win over Georgetown, when Duke's star poured in 32 points on just 12 shots.

Forward Amile Jefferson described Allen's weekend as "unbelievable" and "amazing." Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski called it "spectacular" and "incredible." Neither of them were guilty of overstatement.

That was the good news. It was also, in a way, the bad news: Allen had to be spectacular for Duke to win.

"We need more help," Krzyzewski said.

Indeed, the Blue Devils prevailed in the 2015 2K Classic thanks to Allen. But for most of the weekend, the Blue Devils struggled to play straightforward, solid man-to-man defense, allowing both VCU and Georgetown to score at will in the first half of both games. Even with Allen exiting the earthly plane, the Blue Devils couldn't win either game on their terms. Krzyzewski had to make unconventional adjustments all weekend -- from Friday's small lineup switch to Sunday's second-half unveiling of a 1-3-1 zone.

And while Duke's star freshmen have hinted at their talent -- widely questioned point guard Derryck Thornton played well for the second straight game Sunday -- they are clearly miles away from making the Blue Devils the kind of balanced national title contender some expected before the season.

On Sunday, freshman forward Brandon Ingram, the third-ranked player in the Class of 2015, came off the bench for the first time in his young career. He played just 16 minutes and finished with five points, two steals and one rebound; it was the third straight game Ingram had finished with eight or fewer points.

"I think he's been knocked back with the level of physicality and attention and competitiveness," Krzyzewski said. "He's got to grow from that. He's not even close to playing where he should be playing, and he knows it. That's the learning curve."

Luke Kennard still hasn't found his rhythm from the perimeter. And an even steeper curve applies to freshman center Chase Jeter, Duke's second-highest-rated incoming prospect, who played five minutes Sunday after not getting into the game against VCU.

"He needs some nourishing," Krzyzewski said.

The biggest non-Allen bright spot of the weekend was likely Duke's third freshman, Thornton. Despite not having a clear second option at the point guard position, Krzyzewski began the season with Thornton on the bench, moving off-guard Matt Jones to the point instead. Thornton started and scored in double figures in both games in New York -- and, despite some issues with turnovers and fouls, solidified his position in the rotation.

Still, the stop-and-start introductions have left Krzyzewski relying heavily on his veterans in these early, close tests away from the comfortable confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium. Jones made three big 3s Sunday but finished just 3-of-13 while feeling he, as Krzyzewski said, had to "do everything." Marshall Plumlee and Jefferson combined for 12 points and 14 rebounds against Georgetown, finishing easy buckets but largely failing to create their own offense down low.

That left the Blue Devils relying on a player who began the week looking totally exposed at Kentucky. Fortunately, that player was Allen, not only Duke's brightest talent but also its most capable of making the kinds of immediate, game-to-game adjustments Krzyzewski expects of his stars.

After the Kentucky loss, Krzyzewski held individual meetings with players. When Allen arrived, his coach told him he wouldn't be starting Friday and then explained why: Not only had he played poorly at Kentucky but he had failed, in even his basic body language, to set a competitive tone.

"One of the main reasons he didn't start the next game: He didn't have a strong face," Krzyzewski said. "He was missing that. And when he saw it, he said, 'Whoa.' We watched it. I said, 'Look at your face. Is that how you want to look?' He said, 'I can't believe it.' I said, well, that's what I'm looking at. And also that's what Kentucky is looking at. That's what your teammates are looking at. And when you're an outstanding player, you win not just by how you perform, you win by how you look and how you act."

Allen emerged with a dramatically different look this weekend. He led his team -- a young, flawed, still unformed team -- to two occasionally impressive victories.

"We were not in this game without Grayson," Jefferson said. "He kept us afloat."

In doing so, Allen made it easy to forget that Tuesday night had been his first high-profile start in a Blue Devils' uniform -- that he was, despite his heroics last April, inexperienced in his own right.

Call it another good news-bad news crossover: Allen will need to be brilliant, sure. But if can grow this much this quickly, then maybe the rest of his young teammates can, too.

"We're a good team, and we hope to be a really good team," Krzyzewski said. "But we're not this juggernaut or anything. We've got to fight for everything. We have [to have] a lot of growth. And hopefully we stay healthy while we're doing it."