The No. 6 Duke Blue Devils and No. 4 Arizona Wildcats met in the NIT Season Tip-Off championship game in what was supposed to be one of the most exciting games of the season, and it certainly didn't disappoint as the Wildcats came up with a thrilling 72-66 win.
Things got off to a bit of a slow start, with the teams tied at four entering the first TV timeout just over four minutes into the game. Jabari Parker had missed his first two three-point attempts of the game, but he also had a huge block on Aaron Gordon.
The pace certainly started to speed up, with the teams trading the lead with some quick scoring bursts. Quinn Cook and Rodney Hood combined for 14 total points in the first nine minutes of the game, with the Blue Devils going up 19-15. Through the first 10 minutes of the game, there were seven ties and four lead changes.
Through the first 13 minutes, the big concern for Duke was Parker's struggles. The Wildcats were up 27-25, and Parker had gone just 1-of-7 from the floor with just three points. Gordon was doing a good job defending him, but the Arizona freshman sensation was benched with two fouls.
With Gordon out, Parker got hot, making his next three shots and helping give the Blue Devils a 32-30 lead. Fouls were quickly becoming a problem for the Wildcats, as they already had three starters with two fouls each with just over three minutes left in the half.
There were eight lead changes and 11 ties in the first half, but it was the Blue Devils that led 36-33. Parker led all scorers with 11 points on 5-of-13 shooting.
Arizona was doing a good job keeping up, but it was doing so without much production from its star freshman, as Gordon had just two points. Brandon Ashley was keeping the Wildcats in it, however, as he had 11 points at the half.
Both teams started out sloppy in the second half, with plenty of turnovers on both sides, as well as a lot of missed shots. Quinn Cook was certainly feeling it, however, as he had 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting with just under 12 minutes remaining.
It took the Wildcats until less than nine minutes remaining to take their first lead of the second half, with Ashley coming up with a second-chance bucket to put Arizona up 47-45. They then took a four-point lead after Nick Johnson scored on a layup. However, Hood came up with a big three-point play to put the Blue Devils within one, as this game continued to be a tight one.
Arizona didn't budge though, capping off a 24-8 run with a dunk from Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to take a 61-51 lead. At that point, the momentum had completely swung toward the Wildcats.
The Blue Devils weren't going to go down without a fight. They made a couple of plays, including an awesome behind-the-back pass from Cook to set up a three-point play from Parker, that cut the lead to five with just under two minutes left.
The Blue Devils couldn't pull it out, however, as the Wildcats came away with a huge win. Duke now moves to 6-2, and that's certainly not where it was hoping to be through the first eight games of the season, even if the two losses have come to Top 10 teams.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats became the NIT Season Tip-Off champions and move to 7-0. They look incredibly balanced right now with a great backcourt and some key players down low, proving that they're one of the best teams in the country.
Jabari Parker: C
Sure, Parker still got his points, but he struggled doing it.
Parker finished with 19 points and three rebounds, but he really had trouble scoring those points. He shot 7-of-21 and went 0-of-5 from behind the arc, adding another five turnovers.
This isn't the kind of game Parker was hoping for, as Arizona did a good job shutting him down. He'll certainly bounce back, but his struggles were a big reason for the team's loss.
Aaron Gordon: A-
Early foul troubles really affected Gordon's first half. Fortunately for the Wildcats, he stepped up in the second half and helped lead his team to a big win.
After scoring just two points in the first half, Gordon turned things around in the second. He finished with 10 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks, filling up the stat sheet. He was efficient from the floor, shooting 4-of-6 and making his one shot from behind the arc.
In the battle between two top freshmen, it was Gordon's team who came out on top, even if he didn't score a ton of points.
Rodney Hood: B
With Parker struggling in this one, someone needed to step up and play efficient basketball. That person was Hood, and while the Blue Devils lost, he definitely played well.
Hood scored a team-high 21 points in the loss, going 8-of-15 from the field. While he still shot over 50 percent, this game actually hurt Hood's field-goal percentage for the year, as he entered the game shooting 63.2 percent this season. He also added eight rebounds in the process.
It was an efficient scoring night for Hood, but I'm sure he would it trade in his personal success for a win.
T.J. McConnell: A
T.J. McConnell gets compared to Ohio Sate's Aaron Craft quite a bit, and he certainly looked like him in this one.
While he didn't shoot well, McConnell did an excellent job of running the offense and leading the Wildcats to a big scoring run late in the game. He finished with 10 points, eight assists and six rebounds while shooting 2-of-7 from the field.
Had McConnell shot better, I would have given him an A+ grade, but this was still a fantastic outing from the junior guard.