It is January 4th in South Bend, Indiana, and Duke needs a big play. The Devils are down 77-75, but they have the ball with 16.9 seconds left. Rodney Hood, who had 27 points in the game, receives an inbounds pass along the right baseline and pushes the ball up the court. Hood drives all the way to the hoop, but instead of attempting a contested layup, Hood jumps in the air to make a pass, realizes he has nowhere to go and passes the ball directly to Notre Dame’s Demetrius Jackson. Duke loses 79-77.
Hood’s turnover was disappointing, but Jabari Parker’s absence on the court stole the headlines from the game. Despite not being injured or in foul trouble, Parker was benched for the final minutes of the game after scoring just seven points on 2-10 shooting in 24 minutes.
Parker and Hood came into the season with an enormous amount of hype. Both were picked on the preseason All-ACC Team, despite never having played one game at Duke. Parker famously appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated while in high school and was the No. 2 recruit in the country in a loaded class. Hood was the first Duke player to be named team captain before appearing on the court.
Both Hood and Parker have lived up to the hype, individually—Parker is second in the conference in scoring, and Hood is eighth. However, as a team, Duke has had an up-and-down season. The Devils are in third place in the ACC, after being picked to win the conference. Duke was picked fourth in the country in the preseason Associated Press (AP) rankings, held on to that spot for one week and has since been ranked lower than fourth every week.
In the few weeks after the loss to Notre Dame, guard Rasheed Sulaimon established himself as Duke’s best clutch player. Sulaimon nailed a game-winning three against Virginia and beat the buzzer with a three to send Duke’s first matchup with Syracuse into overtime. In that same game, Parker fouled out and Hood missed a potential game-tying dunk with about 14 seconds left in overtime. The duo was putting up good numbers, but again, they had been either on the bench or unable to make a winning play in the big moment.
That would change Saturday night, February 24, in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
With Duke up 57-56 and 90 seconds to play, Parker got the ball at the high-post, pump-faked and bullied his way past Syracuse’s foul-ridden Rakeem Christmas for a three-point lead. After a Syracuse dunk and a Sulaimon free throw, the Orange had the ball down two with fewer than 20 seconds left. C.J. Fair, an ACC Player of the Year candidate, got the ball on the left wing and drove to the hoop. Hood, playing defense on the left block, noticed Fair coming, positioned himself in Fair’s pathway and drew a charge. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim's disagreement with the call cost him two technical fouls and an ejection, and all of a sudden the game was in Duke’s hands. The Devils would win 66-60.
However, Parker and Hood did not dazzle in the final minutes of that game with the beautiful offensive moves both have shown all season. Parker made a tough shot, and Hood made a smart defensive play. The two are the team's highest scorers this season, but Duke will need them to continue to make winning plays at the end of games. Hood and Parker showed they are willing to do whatever it takes to win. Hopefully, the rest of the Devils will follow the leaders.