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Jabari Parker is human

Freshman Jabari Parker struggled against Arizona's defense, notching 19 points on 21 shots in a 72-66 loss.
Freshman Jabari Parker struggled against Arizona's defense, notching 19 points on 21 shots in a 72-66 loss.

It was fitting that Jabari Parker missed the second of his two free throws with 1:14 left in the game. Same for his meaningless 3-pointer with two seconds left.

Parker finished with 19 points in No. 6 Duke’s 72-66 loss to No. 4 Arizona. He scored at least 20 in his first seven collegiate games, something not done since Kevin Durant in 2006.

At face value, 19 points is plenty good. That’s more than anybody on Arizona scored, nine more than Wildcat phenom Aaron Gordon put home and second on Duke to only Rodney Hood’s 21. But Parker did so on 7-of-21 shooting while turning it over five times.

Jabari Parker is human. His ridiculous start to the season made that easy to forget, but yes, he is.

“Jabari is going to get a lot of attention,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We’re not going to win unless Jabari and Rodney [Hood] shoot the ball. I thought he played a really good game, it just didn’t go down for him.”

Through Duke’s first seven games, the mighty freshman was more god than freshman. Even in the team’s loss to Kansas, he was a man among boys, scoring 27 points and grabbing nine rebounds, only stopped when the referees whistled him for his fifth foul and sent him to the bench. In Duke’s first seven games, he made more SportsCenter top-10 highlights than mistakes, it seemed.

But yes, Jabari Parker is human. It’s very possible he plays like a god seven out of every eight games for the whole season. He’s that special. Parker and the rest of the Blue Devils, though, need to learn how to win when on those rare occasions when his shots aren’t falling.

Not every game can be the next episode of The Jabari Show.

“Coach tries to stress to us not to ball watch—what he means is to not be amazed when ‘Bari hits shots because that’s what Jabari does. He’s a scorer,” senior captain Josh Hairston said. “But we have other guys that can also score the ball: Rodney, Quinn [Cook] and Rasheed [Sulaimon], and I think the guys who play off of him sometimes when he scores, sometimes we do get caught up watching him.”

The good news for the Blue Devils is that even if Parker can’t star every night, an Emmy-worthy supporting cast surrounds him. Friday won’t be the only time Parker doesn’t hit all of his shots, and the team can use the loss to learn how it should adjust when that happens. It will happen again, maybe in the NCAA Tournament. And a team this talented shouldn’t lose just because Parker’s shots aren’t going down.

The two other people to show consistent scoring ability so far this season have been Cook and Hood, and both had strong performances against the Wildcats. Hood led all scorers with 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting while Cook added 13 on 6-of-9 shooting.

Cook made four of his first five shots in the first 9:01 of the game. Then, between some time on the bench because of foul trouble and deferring to his teammates, he didn’t attempt another shot until the 13:51 mark in the second half. It was a 3-pointer, and he made it—Duke’s first trey of the period.

Cook said he didn’t think the Blue Devils were ball watching, just that the Wildcats hit some tough shots and some for Duke rimmed out. His starting backcourt mate agreed.

“Jabari, he got the shots he normally takes,” senior captain Tyler Thornton said. “He just didn’t hit all of them.”

Like Cook, Hood did his part and did so efficiently. But the rest of the Blue Devils combined for only 13 points. Sulaimon was 2-for-8. He averaged 11.6 points per game as a freshman but hasn’t cracked double digits in the team’s last six games. To open things up for Parker, Hood and Cook, more people have to threaten defenses, and that’s not happening yet.

It’s not as if Parker were taking lots of bad shots, as Thornton said. There just has to be more of a team-wide adjustment when the shots he takes don’t rattle home as they usually do. Should Parker stop taking those shots if he’s cold? Probably not. Did he force it at all? Maybe a couple times, but that’s part of the flow of the game.

It can be tricky having one of the best players in the country.

The best player in the country,” Cook said.

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