NEW YORK -- Five quick thoughts on Duke’s 74-64 win over Alabama on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off:
Thank heavens: New Yorkers, and college basketball fans across the country, get what we wanted -- No. 4 Arizona vs. No. 6 Duke, Friday night in the championship game. Between the Champions Classic in Chicago and now the NIT, the college basketball gods have been very kind this November.
Neither team had it easy in the semifinals. Arizona overcame a 19-point first-half deficit against Drexel, and Duke trailed Alabama by seven early in this game before getting into gear. The Blue Devils led by double digits at halftime, 33-22, and held off a strong Crimson Tide surge in the second half. Alabama drew as close as five.
Good as advertised: Duke’s freshman stud, Jabari Parker, scored a game-high 27 points, shooting 9-for-12 from the field and 9-for-10 from the foul line. Quite a Madison Square Garden debut.
Parker has scored 20 points or more in his first seven collegiate games. The last freshman to do that? Kevin Durant.
Next up is a matchup with fellow top-5 recruit Aaron Gordon of Arizona. These two have many more Garden games in their future at the next level.
Change of direction: Duke entered this game with very gaudy offensive numbers -- sixth in the country in points per game (92.7) and third in field goal percentage (55.0). But defense is what jump-started them in this game.
The Blue Devils forced the Crimson Tide into 11 turnovers in the first half and held them to 34.6 percent shooting from the field (9-for-26). They took five charges in the first half alone, including three on Alabama leading scorer Trevor Releford.
For the game, Duke held Alabama to 40.4 percent from the field (23-for-57) and 16.7 percent from beyond the arc (2-for-12). The Blue Devils had played very poorly defensively thus far this season.
One to forget: Alabama isn’t a good offensive team to begin with. But if Releford doesn’t score, the Crimson Tide won’t win many games.
Releford didn’t get going until very late -- he went more than 26 minutes before scoring his first point. He finished with 11 points but shot just 2-for-7 from the field and had four turnovers. Releford came in averaging 18 points.
As expected: Alabama was picked to finish sixth in the SEC -- that sounds about right. The Crimson Tide are very good defensively, as usual. But coach Anthony Grant just doesn’t have enough capable half-court scorers.