The Yum Center boo birds followed the opening tip-off into Grayson Allen’s hands Saturday, and then they let him have it.
Actually, they started earlier than that.
Before Louisville’s eventual 78-69 victory over Duke even began, the Cardinals’ student section was heckling Allen on the Blue Devils’ bench. When the junior guard was introduced as part of the Duke starting lineup, the rest of the crowd got into the act.
For 40 minutes, they didn’t let up.
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Every time Allen touched the ball, he was booed lustily.
Shouts from the Louisville student section mentioned his mother and girlfriend by name. They made light of his multiple tripping incidents — the ones that led to a one-game suspension earlier this season — and chanted at him to “Throw. A. Tantrum.”
A sign in the front row read, “Grayson Allen Tripped Coach K,” referencing Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski, currently on the mend after undergoing mid-season back surgery.
“You hear the crowds everywhere he goes,” U of L Coach Rick Pitino said. “They bury him. He’s the modern-day Christian Laettner right now.”
There were no misadventures in this game, his fourth since his suspension and second on the road. The Grayson Allen Show came and went, without incident.
Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel — filling in while Coach K recovers — downplayed the treatment Allen received from the crowd of 22,686, nearly double the number of fans who booed him at Florida State earlier in the week.
“I don’t think it bothers him,” Capel said. “Look, you’re on the road. That’s supposed to happen. Unless something’s changed in college basketball, if you’re a good player — and Grayson’s a really good player — when you go on the road, the opposing team is supposed to say stuff. … You shouldn’t be surprised by it.”
Capel said it was something that Allen would have to deal with from any opposing team with a passionate crowd, and he expects many more of those in conference play.
You hear the crowds everywhere he goes. They bury him. He’s the modern-day Christian Laettner right now.
Rick Pitino, Louisville head coach
For his part, Allen didn’t seem to be shaken.
He scored a game-high 23 points — including nine straight to get the Blue Devils within striking distance midway through the second half — grabbed a team-high nine rebounds and dished out three assists.
The microscope was on him all afternoon.
He was involved in a scrum for a loose ball early on, and as soon as the whistle was blown to signal a jump ball, teammate Chase Jeter grabbed him and pulled him away from the action. Allen smiled a few moments later as the crowd booed.
A little while after that, Allen drew contact going to the basket and hit the floor. Another teammate, Javin DeLaurier, immediately wrapped him up and walked him down the court.
After that, Allen and U of L guard Donovan Mitchell went to the ground awkwardly for a loose ball. Both got up, Allen a little more slowly than Mitchell, and played on.
“Everybody kind of blows his stuff out of proportion,” Mitchell said. “He’s a good kid. He just plays the game with such passion and such energy.”
Pitino also defended the embattled Blue Devil, calling him a “terrific” person four times, explaining his past transgressions as acts of competitiveness.
“I happen to think he’s a terrific young man,” he said. “I think it’s a reflex action, like somebody throwing an elbow. Because he’s a highly, highly intelligent young man, so why would you do it? I think he’s a terrific young man who made a mistake. Made three of ’em. But I think it’s a reflex action.”
Mitchell said he’d never been in a game where a player was heckled so thoroughly, comparing it to what LeBron James must have gone through when he left the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Allen should probably expect that treatment to continue, indefinitely.
“It was a little bit much, in my opinion,” Mitchell said. “At the end of the day, he’s a kid. And I kind of feel for that. I don’t think any parents want to see their kid chanted against like that. But, it’s in the heat of the game. And in order to be a professional, you’re going to have to go through that. And he didn’t let any of that get to his head.
“I have a lot of respect for him.”