Duke's Grayson Allen: 'This tournament's all about staying alive.'
Duke's Grayson Allen knows what it's like put in work for an entire season and create a bond with your teammates, only to watch it end abruptly after an early exit in the NCAA tournament.
"It's the most abrupt ending to a season you can have," Allen, a senior guard, said. "You don't prepare for it. You don't prepare for it at all."
Allen said you start to miss the things you once hated, such as the early morning runs and practice.
That happened last year to Duke, a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, after it was upset by seventh seeded South Carolina 88-81 in the Round of 32.
After the game, reality hit: That same group of players would never play together again.
Four players would go on to declare for the NBA draft in the offseason. Two would transfer and three graduated. The following season, a brand new group of guys would come in.
On Saturday, second seeded Duke (27-7) plays seventh seeded Rhode Island (26-7) in the Round of 32 in Pittsburgh. Duke starts four freshman, and none have experienced losing in the NCAA tournament.
Rhode Island beat 10th seeded Oklahoma in the first round on Thursday, 83-78 in overtime. With five seniors, Rhode Island, just like South Carolina in 2017, is hoping to pull off the upset.
"I just want to go out there and show them what I can do," Rhode Island sophomore forward Cyril Langevine said. "I'm never scared of nobody. I'm not nervous. I just want to go out there and play basketball."
Langevine leads Rhode Island in rebounds per game (5.9).
In the last seven years, Duke has lost in the first or second round of the NCAA tournament three times. Duke sophomore forward Javin DeLaurier said he remembers the loss to South Carolina, and being in disbelief after the game.
"And it was just so painful just looking around the locker room, because none of us expected our season to end so early," he said. "And all of a sudden that's it. You're never going to put on a Duke uniform with those guys again. And that's just a really powerful feeling.
"So we've told these young guys about that, like, you can't look ahead or not give everything you have for a game, because you're not guaranteed to play another one."
DeLaurier said this year, there's more of a sense of urgency. The players are better prepared and are not ready for their season to end. In 2017, he said he felt the team took for granted that they would make the Sweet 16.
Sophomore center Marques Bolden agreed.
"We kind of had a lot of veteran leadership on that team... but still with us kind of being the team we were, we kind of looked ahead," Bolden said, "and that's one thing we're not doing this year."
Duke won its first round game against Iona 89-67 on Thursday. Duke caught fire early on, as did Iona. But the Blue Devils made necessary adjustments to take a big lead in the first half. Freshman forward Marvin Bagley led all scorers with 22 points. He got help from fellow freshman Trevon Duval, who had 19 points, and Allen and freshman guard Gary Trent Jr., who had 16 each.
Duval said he feels a sense of urgency.
"I've imagined it, just being hurt," Duval said. "Especially to lose early...That's definitely something I've thought about. Like 'damn, what if we did lose.' Everybody would be really broken up, and it would really mess everything up."
So Duke's players are not looking ahead and taking it one game at a time. Because they know what can happen.
"Tomorrow at 4 o'clock if we don't come out and play, our season can be done at the end of the game right then," Allen said.