OMAHA, Neb. — In a career that seems to have lasted an eternity and encompassed a universe of accomplishment and controversy, it’s fitting that the final game of Grayson Allen’s career featured a moment frozen in time.
In the space of a second, history hung in the balance and on a rim. Either Allen had made one of the most iconic shots ever, or he had lost a chance to put Duke in the Final Four.
Top-seeded Kansas survived Allen’s shot at the end of regulation and outlasted No. 2 Duke in overtime, 85-81, to win the Midwest Region, clock the Jayhawks’ 15th trip to the Final Four and finish of one of the more interesting careers in recent memory.
Allen was a surprise hit in a national championship winner, an ascendant star, his own worst enemy in a series of bizarre tripping episodes and an elder statesman on a title contender. His career isn’t likely to ever be replicated. It’s been successful, self-destructive and salvaged. He’s been maddening and magnificent. Sometimes in the space of the same 40 minutes.
“He’s one of the outstanding players to have ever played in our program,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
The final chapter played out in a game worthy of the teams and programs it featured. By definition, Duke vs. Kansas in the Elite 8 is a historic happening. Two of the most storied and successful schools to ever do it facing off with the Final Four as the prize is as close to the pinnacle of the sport as it gets when there’s not a national title at stake.
There were 18 lead changes and 11 ties, All-Americans and lottery picks, Coach K and Bill Self. The play wasn’t always pretty, but the game was beautiful.
And perhaps the most polarizing player of the last decade had a shot at solidifying the immortality he may already own.
Twenty-six seconds on the clock. Scoreboard with matching 72s. Season at stake.
Allen crossed over to his right before Kansas’ Malik Newman forced him back left. A hesitation dribble. Allen pushed forward to his left. Rose up off his right foot and measured the shot before releasing. The ball collided with the backboard, carrommed into the rim and spun around, back to the backboard and then once more it danced across the rim.
That’s when time stopped. A country waited to watch history. Two teams awaited their fate. One man saw his legacy, sliding across a small piece of metal in the middle of America.
“It came really close to going in,” Allen said, “and it didn’t.”
It’s as simple and cruel as that. It didn’t go in, and as such, Allen missed out on his One Shining Moment, his spot next to Christian Laettner in tournament lore and a chance at a second national championship.
“To have a chance at winning it and moving on and not being able to do it, it hurts a lot,” Allen said. “But I’m so happy, so happy I made that choice to come here, so happy that they asked me — they asked me to come here and gave me a scholarship.
“I’ve learned so much in my four years here, coming out a completely different person and for the better. And the relationships I’ve built with Coach, the coaches. Some of my teammates who are guys I call my brothers now, those will last for a really long time. And that’s one of the things I’ll cherish. Those don’t go away.”
Duke was the beneficiary of maybe the most famous miss in NCAA tournament history when Gordon Hayward’s oh-so-close heave delivered them the 2010 national championship. Allen’s misfire may not be in that pantheon, but it’s one that will stand the test of time. That missed shot won’t be forgotten. It’ll be remembered not as a scarlet letter, but as a what-if. A tantalizing tease of a moment when history diverged. When the shot looked like it was going in, but didn’t.
The game officially didn’t end there in regulation, but, really, that was the last moment of Grayson Allen’s Duke career. The ball sitting on the rim, his critics and fans both on the edge of their seats, waiting to see what happens.