Allen, No. 5 Duke aim to fend off Syracuse (Feb 23, 2018)

February 23, 2018

DURHAM, N.C. -- Grayson Allen has become Duke's headline player again as the fifth-ranked Blue Devils continue to pick up steam.

In the second-to-last home game of his career, the senior guard is bound to be a focal point when Duke takes on visiting Syracuse on Saturday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Second-place Duke (23-5, 11-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) is out of contention for the top seed in the ACC Tournament. Earlier Saturday, Virginia could wrap up the outright regular-season title by winning at last-place Pittsburgh.

But Duke has plenty for which to play with three regular-season games left. A loss Saturday would drop it into a tie with North Carolina.

Allen seems up to the task even as he has moved to a role with more ball-handling responsibilities.

"For the most part, he's bringing the ball up and he can be in control of the team," coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "As our leader, that puts him in a more prominent spot and the kids respond a little bit better."

Allen has been the team's leading scorer in the past four games when the Blue Devils have been without injured freshman forward Marvin Bagley III.

"He's really gone forward," Krzyzewski said of Allen, whose 28 points on Wednesday night against Louisville marked his second-highest total of the season.

"We're getting a lot better," Allen said. "We're better than we were last week, a lot better than we were two weeks ago, and we just keep improving and it's great to see."

Duke is 8-0 this season and 32-6 all-time when Allen reaches the 20-point mark. He also has 127 assists, matching what had been a career-best total from his sophomore season.

For Syracuse, it's a crucial matchup. The Orange have been considered an NCAA Tournament bubble team and a breakthrough victory would be ideal to enhance their credentials.

Syracuse (18-10, 7-8) nearly had a notable home outcome Wednesday night, but lost 78-74 to No. 10 North Carolina.

"I think we've got a good team. I think we've played well," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "We've got some really, really tough games left and we'll see what happens."

Syracuse has won three ACC road games (at Pittsburgh, Louisville and Miami). The Orange rely heavily on a small core of players, with Tyus Battle, Frank Howard and Oshae Brissett all averaging more than 38 minutes per game.

"Like every team, you have to improve every practice," Boeheim said. "We're getting better. We have to improve to get better, really, in every aspect."

Duke center Marques Bolden, whose role has increased during Bagley's absence, underwent surgery to repair a fractured nasal bone Thursday. He isn't expected to miss game time.

The injury occurred during Sunday's victory at Clemson. Bolden played 16 minutes with eight points Wednesday against Louisville.

Bagley's status remains unclear, though he has been on the court for early shooting work prior to the past couple of games before changing to street clothes. Krzyzewski has expressed confidence that the ACC scoring and rebounding leader will return from the mild right knee sprain.

"I'm not going to push him," Krzyzewski said. "You don't want anyone out there who's thinking about a body part while you're playing."

Krzyzewski and Boeheim have had a long friendship. Boeheim served on Krzyzewski's U.S. national team staff through 2016.

"We shared almost 12 years with U.S. basketball, with a lot of great things," Krzyzewski said. "I may not be smart in some things, but I was smart enough to ask him to be with me for 12 years."

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