Playing in front of another below-capacity crowd at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the No. 6 Blue Devils survived a scare from the upstart Pirates, 83-74, to advance to next week's semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off. Duke was powered by 30 points from Rodney Hood and 21 from Jabari Parker.
"They came back last night, they’re used to doing that," Hood said. "They’re playing with free money, they’re playing on our home court. No pressure on them, all the pressure on us."The Blue Devils (4-1) came out on fire, hitting their first 11 shots from the floor and sprinting out to an early 21-7 lead. Duke's first miss came with just more than 11 minutes remaining in the first half.
Point guard Quinn Cook led the offensive barrage, finishing the opening period with 11 points and seven assists, but it was where his teammates were catching his passes that enabled them to have success. Twenty-eight of Duke's 43 first-half points came in the paint. Parker was the main beneficiary of Cook's passing, pouring in 12 first-half points on 6-of-8 shooting, nearly all of which came inside the key.
“They were going man, so we have scorers and guys that can make plays when they get in the lane. And then they went zone and kind of stood us up,” said Cook, who finished with 14 points and 10 assists. “We gutted it out at the end, and we needed this learning experience.”The hot shooting did not last. Duke made just 16 of its last 46 shots, including plenty of looks around the rim. The vaunted 3-point assault was also lacking, as the Blue Devils were just 5-for-14 overall from downtown.
"When we did get close to the bucket, we couldn’t finish the play tonight," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "And then all of a sudden, [the Pirates] stay in there, and they’re playing really well, and there’s an incredible amount of game pressure. You can cut it with a knife. And I’m proud of my guys, we responded."Although East Carolina (4-1) never held a lead, there were times Tuesday when Duke's nonconference home winning streak, which now stands at 105, appeared in jeopardy. After falling behind 41-23, the Pirates stayed within striking distance, trailing 43-32 at halftime, thanks in large part to nine offensive rebounds. East Carolina scored 14 second-chance points in the first half—Duke had none.
Early in the second half, the Pirates cut the Duke lead to 50-44, utilizing dribble penetration from point guard Prince Williams to set up open looks for teammate Akeem Richmond, who drilled three 3-pointers on the night. It wasn't just Richmond who hurt the Blue Devils—four Pirates reached double-digit points.
What had been a well-oiled Duke offensive machine in the first half was anything but for most of the second period. Parker was suddenly out of sorts, making just one of his first seven shots in the second half. At times, Hood seemed to be the only Blue Devil capable of solving the Pirates' 2-3 zone, scoring nine of Duke's first 14 points in the half.
"We were playing tight, as far as passing around the perimeter," Hood said. "Me and Jabari took it upon ourselves to get in the middle and get to the basket. We got a couple fouls, got in the 1-and-1 and hit our free throws.... Once we got in the middle, good things happened."The Duke lead was whittled all the way down to 64-63 after two free throws by Williams with 6:59 remaining. Two plays later, Parker followed by hitting two from the line as well, but then missed a spectacular would-be alley-oop, creating another East Carolina fast break that led to more free throws.
But then Parker made the play of the game. He dribbled the length of the floor, navigating through the entire Pirate squad, and elevated for a one-handed flush, sending the Cameron Crazies into an uproar and giving Duke a five-point lead.
"Jabari’s play full-court really kind of broke the ice for us,” Krzyzewski said. “It was like a statement play. It made all of our guys respond better. We’ve all been in situations where for moments we’re not as confident about something that you’d normally do in a confident manner. And you need to break through it. Our guys were able to break through it while they were playing, instead of talking about it afterwards after congratulating East Carolina on a win."Still East Carolina would not go away. A pair of jumpers by Paris Roberts-Campbell kept the Pirates within five with under three minutes to play. But two blocks by Parker on the same Pirate possession gave the Blue Devils the stop they badly needed, and Hood converted the opportunity into two free throws to pad Duke's lead and close out the game.
After struggling from the charity stripe in a 94-83 loss against Kansas Nov. 12 in the Champions Classic, the Blue Devils hit their foul shots down the stretch Tuesday night, going 19-for-24 in the second half.
“We practice [free throws] more, but you’ve got to be careful not to talk too much about it because you don’t want it to become ‘a thing,’" Krzyzewski said. "Sometimes when you lose a game like that… it hurts, so you shoot a lot more."