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Duke tops 'Bama, sets up showdown with Arizona

The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- Cameron Indoor Stadium is Duke's home court, but Madison Square Garden continues to serve the Blue Devils very well.

No. 6 Duke received a season-high 27 points from star freshman forward Jabari Parker and 17 points from junior guard Quinn Cook in a 74-64 win over Alabama on Wednesday night in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off at the Garden.

The victory was the Blue Devils' 15th in their past 16 games at the Garden. Duke is 28-15 overall at the "The World's Most Famous Arena," 23-7 under coach Mike Krzyzewski.

The Blue Devils (6-1) meet No. 4 Arizona (6-0) in the final Friday night. Duke is seeking its first NIT Season Tip-Off title since 2009. Arizona claimed the title in 1990, 1995 and 1999.

Forward Nick Jacobs led the Crimson Tide (3-2) with 18 points.

"We love New York," Krzyzewski said. "It's an honor to come and play here at the Garden. I want every one of my guys to have that experience on a yearly basis if possible.

"I played in this place when it opened. It was an honor as a player to be in it. There's just something about the place. There are different sounds here. The horn sounds different, the floor sounds different."

Duke's latest appearance was aided by one of the top freshmen in the country.

Alabama closed the Duke lead to 46-40 midway through the second half, with a 12-0 run, before Parker took over. He scored eight of the Blue Devils' next 10 points to extend Duke's lead to 56-44 with 7:30 to play.

Parker dropped in 14 points in the second half. On the night, he went 9-for-12 from the field and 9-for-10 from the free-throw line.

"The guys were there for me the whole game," Parker said. "When they look at Rodney (Hood) or Q (Quinn Cook), I try to get open for good looks.

"I do whatever I have to do for my team. They are the ones that get me the open feeds and open looks."

The NIT final matches two of the top freshmen in the country, Parker and Arizona's Aaron Gordon, who has scored in double figures in all six games this season.

With some East Coast exposure, Gordon has a chance to be mentioned in the same sentence with the other "fab frosh" -- Parker, Kentucky's Julius Randle and Kansas' Andrew Wiggins.

"(Gordon's) first six games for me have been great," Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "He's a pleasure to coach, as talented as he is on the floor. Aaron is not going to wow you with 25 shot attempts.

Gordon, a 6-foot-9 forward from San Jose, Calif., tossed in 10 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in the Wildcats' 66-62 win over Drexel in the other semifinal game Wednesday night.

Gordon and Parker both project as NBA first-round picks in next year's draft, should they decide to go "one and done."

Parker's contribution for the Blue Devils was immediate. He already has seven 20-plus point games, only the second time a Duke player accomplished that feat to begin his career.

Parker averages 23 points per game, and he teams with Hood, a forward who averages 21.8 points, to make up one of the NCAA's highest-scoring duos. The pair's 44.8 points per game ranked fourth in the nation among teammates entering play Wednesday.

Gordon is a more of a low-post threat than Parker, who likes to roam the perimeter. The 6-8, 235-pound Parker is 14-for-23 (60.9 percent) on 3-point attempts.

Arizona was uncomfortable in its sets during the first half against Drexel (3-2) and was exposed by a quicker Dragons backcourt on defense. The Wildcats committed 10 first-half turnovers, three from Gordon.

Arizona will see more of that speed Friday night in the form of Blue Devils guards Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon, who thrive on run-outs.

However, Duke's defense was exposed in its last two games prior to getting to Madison Square Garden. Vermont shot 64.8 percent from the floor in the Blue Devils' 91-90 win Sunday, and Duke was outrebounded 37-34 in the 83-74 decision over East Carolina on Nov. 19.

Both games were at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Through the first six games, Krzyzewski's team ranked 248th in the country in points allowed (75.7), 240th in field-goal percentage allowed (45.2 percent) and 188th in turnovers (11.7 per game).

After the defensive struggle against Vermont, Duke put together its best half to start Wednesday's game against Alabama.

The Blue Devils led 33-22 at the break, forcing the Crimson Tide into 11 turnovers and just nine made shots from the field.

Alabama finished with 17 turnovers.

"Give Duke credit," Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. "They did a really good job of building a lead in the first half, then extending it in the second half.

"For our team, it's a tough lesson in terms of the loss. We have to step up and make some plays in the first half."

NOTES: Duke earned its 13th consecutive win in the NIT Season Tip-Off dating back to 1996. The Blue Devils have a 26-game winning streak across all regular-season tournaments. ... Duke is 8-1 all-time against Alabama, though the schools' previous meeting was in 1986. ... The Crimson Tide entered play holding opponents to 41.8 percent shooting and 29.3 percent from 3-point range. Duke shot 43.1 percent and made 40 percent of its 3-point attempts (6-for-15).
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