CHICAGO — Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood sat several lockers apart Tuesday night at United Center after the No.4 Blue Devils lost 94-83 to fifth-ranked Kansas. The theme of both of their answers was the same: I could have done more.
Said Parker: “Me, I just need to get a little more experience and be hungry to learn. I’ve got a long way to go. Defense wins championships, and I didn’t show that.”
And Hood: “I’ve got to be more assertive. I can’t let the game come to me and just hope for opportunities. I’ve got to go take them and be more aggressive. It’s a learning period for me, too, being at the head of the team.”
It’s harder to nitpick Parker’s performance – he led the team in points (27), rebounds (nine), 3-pointers (four), steals (two) and blocks (one, the only one) and shot 5-for-5 from the free-throw line on a night the Blue Devils struggled from the stripe. His 49 points during his first two games represent the best start to a Duke career.
Defensively, he had a tough matchup against Perry Ellis, who led his team with 24 points (on 9-for-13 shooting), nine rebounds and three steals. He also hit a 3-pointer that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski pointed to as a key moment, when the Blue Devils’ early four-point lead in the second half was sliced to 50-49.
“If you get a stop, you go up six or seven,” Krzyzewski said of that moment.
And whether they came from Parker or someone else, the Blue Devils needed a few more stops during the second half. The score was tied with three minutes remaining, and Kansas trailed by two with less than two minutes left. But the Jayhawks ended on an 11-2 run.
“We didn’t come up with the solid stop that we needed,” Tyler Thornton said. “That’s another thing we have to work on, in crunch time, when plays need to be made, we need to make them, no excuses.”
Clearly, there will be an adjustment period to the new hand-check rules, which Rasheed Sulaimon said have been difficult to get used to. Kansas scored 50 points in the paint, 30 coming during the second half, and the Jayhawks added 12 on the fast break. Once Parker picked up his fourth foul with four minutes left, Kansas starting driving at him.
The rule works both ways, and given the Blue Devils’ speed and athleticism, they should be able to drive and cause teams defensive and foul troubles, too. Duke put up 42 points in the paint but just four on the fast break. There were several key possessions when the Blue Devils forced shots or took quick shots, which fed into some defensive struggles.
“Our offense hurt our defense,” Thornton said. “We can’t take bad shots, we have to make our free throws, those things separate the game.”
The Blue Devils shot 51.7 percent from the line, which Thornton attributed to young guys putting too much pressure on themselves and overthinking. That pressure transferred to the defensive end, and by the time the second half began to draw to a close, the Blue Devils were tired, emotionally from the big-game atmosphere and physically from the Jayhawks’ size, especially in the frontcourt.
“I called a timeout at” 6 minutes, 24 seconds, Krzyzewski said. “We were staggering. We were tired. I just told them, ‘Try to get angry. Try to push one another.’ That’s what we have to learn from a game like this. In winning big games, you have to have waves of emotion. ... And how do you create those waves of emotion? A steal, something somebody says, a loose ball or whatever. It’s learning how to win.”
Hood, who scored at will from the elbow against Davidson, faded into the background offensively while Parker took over (but Hood did do an admirable job defending Andrew Wiggins). Hood finished with 11 points with 3-for-8 shooting and led Duke in assists and turnovers with five apiece.
“I found myself getting lost in the game a bit when Jabari got hot,” Hood said. “It’s something to learn from.”
And that’s a blanket statement that applies to all the Blue Devils.
Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley