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Duke wins squeaker / November 26, 2013

No. 6 Duke will get serious on the national stage again when the Blue Devils meet Alabama tonight in the semifinals of the NIT Season tip-off in New York. From there, the Blue Devils will advance to either the championship or consolation games. Powerful Arizona and Drexel make up the other bracket in this event.

The Blue Devils improved to 5-1 following a narrow escape, their 91-90 win over a gritty, experienced Vermont club.

Duke, which had consistent problems trying to guard the Catamounts and also struggled to prevent second shots by the visitors in the second half, played poorly. It’s extremely unlikely the Blue Devils will take home the championship hardware from New York if they turn in another general stinker like they did Sunday.

Vermont, which is far better than its 1-5 record indicates, went zone in the second half and cooled down the Blue Devils. Duke built a 15-point lead at the 5:24 mark of the first half, but the visitors changed to the zone in the second half. Duke struggled to adapt, Vermont outscored the Blue Devils 47-40 over the final 20 minutes, and the Blue Devils narrowly avoided defeat.

Freshman Jabari Parker scored 26 points in the win, including 13 of 15 Duke points in a seven-plus minute stretch in the second half, during which Vermont scored 17 to craft an 81-79 lead. Parker nailed an alley-oop dunk from Rasheed Sulaimon at the 3:11 mark to tie the game at 81-all.

Rodney Hood later connected on the game-winning free throw with five seconds left.

Parker also had nine boards, two steals, a block and an assist in 35 minutes to extend his streak of consecutive 20-point games to six.

Parker’s streak of six consecutive 20-point games to open his career is the longest by a Division 1 freshman since Indiana’s Eric Gordon had six to open the 2007-08 season.

Hood added 22 points and seven boards, and Quinn Cook chipped in with 14 points and eight boards for the Blue Devils, who struggled against a mid-major opponent at home for the second game in a row.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski rarely throws his team under the bus in public, but he held little in reserve.

“They (Vermont) were terrific, and we were awful,” said Krzyzewski. “This was an unacceptible performance. We were lucky to win.”

“We played like a team that thought we would just show up and win. That’s how you get beat.”

Krzyzewski specifically noted the Blue Devils did not communicate properly, especially on defense. The Blue Devils are essentially young together, in terms of playing time, and the coaching staff has plenty to address after this performance.

Asked what the Blue Devils need to do to correct this, Krzyzewski said, “We’re going to try not to be awful.”

“We didn’t talk, because we didn’t think we needed to. I don’t think we respected (Vermont),” said Krzyzewski, who said that program is certainly worthy of respect.

“We need to respect the game more than we did tonight.”

Krzyzewski said Vermont has a chance to make the NCAA tournament and cause some trouble. And Duke needs to understand, game in and game out, that opponents will be fired up to take on Duke, clearly one of the elite teams in the recent history of college hoops.

Vermont shredded the Blue Devils, shooting 66.7 percent from the floor in the first half, 63.3 percent in the second stanza and a staggering 64.8 percent overall. And Duke entered the game 13th in the 15-team ACC in scoring defense and 11th in field goal percentage defense.

“Nothing will work if you don’t talk on defense,” said Krzyzewski. “You have got to talk ... Nothing works well if you don’t work well. You have to work well. We did not work well.”

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