NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Jabari Parkers season had been going swimmingly, as he quickly established himself as one of the best, if not the best, players in college basketball.
But Notre Dame did something no other team had done: render Parker ineffective, to the point where Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski opted to keep him on the bench for the final minutes of the No. 7 Blue Devils 79-77 loss to the Fighting Irish.
For the first time this season, Parker didnt score in double-figures, as he shot 2-of-10 from the field for seven points in 24 minutes. After allowing Pat Connaughton an uncontested dunk, Parker was subbed out at the next opportunity and did not play for the final three minutes, 35 seconds of the game. During that stretch, Duke (11-3, 0-1 in the ACC) was able to cut a six-point deficit to one point on three occasions.
He wasnt playing well, Krzyzewski said about leaving Parker on the bench. For any kid who is not playing well, you should try to find a kid that is playing well. But that happens. Sometimes kids dont play well throughout the game. He just wasnt having a good game.
When asked a follow-up question about how unusual it was to see Parker not play well, Krzyzewski said: Well, he is a human being. He didnt play well today. That is part of being a freshman. Hopefully he will recover quickly from that.
Parker was not made available to the media after the game.
One of the two Duke players who did talk just off the court in the aftermath of the loss, Rodney Hood, was notably emotional, stopping to collect himself several times through his answers.
They outplayed us. I mean, Hood said, pausing as he stared at the ground, No excuse there. They outplayed us. We needed a stop, we didnt get a stop. We had some balls go in and out, but I could name at least 10 plays where it was a breaking point and we didnt pull it off. We have to be able to do that on the road.
One of the plays likely running through Hoods mind came in the final minute, with Notre Dame holding a 77-75 lead. Sixteen seconds remained on the clock, and Hood took the ball up the floor. Krzyzewski opted not to take a timeout, seeing that Notre Dame forward Tom Knight would have to guard Hood, but Hood drove in, and, instead of trying to finish at the rim around or through Knight, he turned in midair to fire a pass back outside. The pass was intercepted by Demetrius Jackson, who made his free throws at the other end to seal the win.
We were down by two, and you couldnt draw it up better, Krzyzewski said. As soon as we saw that matchup, we knew we were going to get him the ball. That is how we won the Vermont game.
Hood made the layup at the end of the 91-90 win over Vermont on Nov. 24, and it should be noted that he kept Duke in Saturdays game with his game-high 27 points, thanks to 5-of-10 shooting from 3-point range. But the issue that almost cost Duke the game against the Catamounts did end up dooming them against the Fighting Irish (10-4): defense.
Notre Dame (10-4, 1-0) shot 62.5 percent from the field in the second half and scored 44 points in the paint (compared with Dukes 16). Eric Atkins led the Irish with 19 points (many on drives) and 11 assists.
Many of those dimes went into the post, and center Garrick Sherman finished with 14 points on 6-of-14 shooting.
We wanted to play closer to the bucket because we were bigger than them, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said.
Of Notre Dames first-half points, 22 (62.9 percent) came in the paint.
They did a lot of motions and stuff, and when Eric picked it up, guys were just cutting, and he was picking us apart, Quinn Cooke said. He did a great job.
When the Blue Devils were up 60-50 midway through the second half, it looked like their outside shooting would prevent Notre Dame from catchup up. Duke had made 12-of-22 3-pointers (54.5 percent) at the point but finished 0-for-6 from long range down the stretch. That, combined with constant defensive breakdowns, led to a 22-4 Notre Dame run.
It was a big win for the Irish, who, in the past two weeks, blew an eight-point lead in the final 50 seconds against Ohio State and lost their starting point guard, Jerian Grant, to an academic issue that forced him to withdraw from the school. But now Notre Dame is 1-0 in the conference, and its the Blue Devils who need to go back to the drawing board.
I felt like we prepared well, but with everything that Coach is going through (missing practice this week to attend his brothers funeral), we felt like this was a statement game for us and him, Cook said. They deserved to win.