CHICAGO — In the gym Jabari Parker called home for four years, Simeon head coach Robert Smith opined about his former star.
The only reason Jabari lost the No. 1 ranking is because he got hurt, Smith said, speaking of recruiting rankings. I might be biased, but I still think hes No. 1.
For the first 20 minutes of play especially, and the whole game, really, it would be hard to imagine a better basketball player. But despite the Parker show, the game stayed close until the wire (thanks in large part to Dukes free throw shooting struggles). The No. 5 Jawhawks prevailed over No. 4 Duke 94-83.
They hit 80 percent from the foul line. We shoot 50 percent from the foul line, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said, rounding a bit. Theyre going to score, and were going to score, and those times when you get free shots, we have to at least match them in the percentage.
Neither team had more than a five-point lead in the second half until the final two minutes of the game. A Rasheed Sulaimon floater pulled Duke to within 83-81 with 1:51 left on the clock, but Andrew Wiggins came down on the other end and put in his own floater over Amile Jefferson. On the ensuing possession, Perry Ellis knocked the ball away from Rodney Hood, and Wiggins finished with a dunk on the other end to put Kansas up 87-81. Duke trailed by that seven-point margin with one minute left and couldnt make up the deficit.
The Blue Devils shot 16-of-28 (57.1 percent) from the free throw line and missed on the front end of of three one-and-ones in the first half. That made the difference.
That was really a key part of the game, Krzyzewski said of the one-and-one misses in the first half. We were playing better. Weve got to put points up there.
We played better than they did in the first half, and we should have been up a little bit more. They played better than we did in the second half.
Parker led all scorers with 27 points on 9-of-18 shooting. He also led Duke with nine rebounds and three steals and also recorded Dukes only block. Amile Jefferson added 17. Perry Eillis led Kansas with 24 points of his own.
The freshman from Chicago could not have been more impressive in the first half, which ended with Duke up 42-40.
Parker was all over the floor and finished the first 20 minutes with 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting, including 4-of-5 from long distance. He also added five rebounds, two steals, and one assist and block apiece and spent most of his time on the defense end guarding Perry Ellis and others in the low block.
Meanwhile, the freshman that took his No. 1 rankingAndrew Wigginssat much of the first half with two fouls. Wiggins finished with six first-half points in nine minutes. He was much more aggressive in the second half and finished with 22 points and eight rebounds.
Parker would prefer to shun the spotlight and keep the focus on the Blue Devils as a whole, but when he more than doubles Dukes second-highest scorer (Amile Jefferson with seven) and leads the team in rebounds, its hard not to focus on the freshman.
Parker scored his first seven points in 34 seconds, thanks to back-to-back 3s from the top of the key. The first also drew a foul from Jamari Traylor, and Parker completed the four-point play to erase a brief Kansas lead and put Duke back up 14-13.
After Wiggins went to the bench, with Kansas trailing 22-1, the Jayhawks made a mini surge and twice held six-point leads. But as soon as the Jayhawks pulled their advantage to 34-28, Parker made two drives to the basket, coming away with four points. He put Duke back ahead with a 3 to make it 37-36 and then hit another 3 on Dukes next possession to make it 40-38.
Both teams shot over 50 percent in the opening half, with the Blue Devils making 55.6 of its shots from the field. That was far better than the Blue Devils percentage from the line, where they connected on only 46.2 percent of their chances (6-of-13).
Parker, for his part, went a perfect 3-for-3, and Duke led 42-40 at the half. But it should have been more. The Blue Devils officially went 6-of-13 (46.2 percent) in the first half from the charity stripe, but three misses on one-and-ones robbed them of three more chances. Two of them came from Rodney Hood, who said he got too passive when Parker got hot. The third front-end miss came from Sulaimon, and Matt Jones later missed two free throws on a shooting foul.
By the second half, the Blue Devils were starting to wear down from Kansass physical size and the emotions of an early-season big game. There were more defensive lapses. And more missed free throws.
Still, Krzyzewski, stating the obvious, said his team played well. A small thing like free throws would have been more than enough to change the outcome.
Keeley 919-829-4556; Twitter @laurakeeley