When Jabari Parker drove past Kyle Washington, less than a minute into Saturday’s game, he didn’t just draw a foul. He found everything that had been missing from his game for the past few weeks.
“I got the ball and I could tell he was expecting the shot,” Parker said. “I just attacked with the lead foot.”
And with that, the Duke freshman left his nationally publicized slump behind, attacking N.C. State the same way he had attacked opponents early in the season. Parker’s 23 points led the way in Duke’s most complete performance of the year, brushing aside the Wolfpack in a 95-60 win.
Just as the losses to Notre Dame and Clemson and narrow win over Virginia served as a wake-up call for Duke, Parker’s performances in those games served as a wake-up call for him. In Duke’s first four ACC games, he averaged only 10.5 points, went 14-for-46 from the floor and attempted only 12 free throws.
Too many step-back jump shots. Too few drives to the basket. Too passive with the basketball. Not moving enough without it.
In the five days since the Virginia game, assistant coach Jeff Capel worked closely with Parker on moving more, getting to the basket more, attacking more. Parker, meanwhile, became aware that teams had developed a book on him and were selling out to defend his jump shot.
“That was the entire plan, just to stay away from the scouting report and what they want me to do, just settling,” Parker said.
Saturday, Parker took only two 3-pointers. He made both. Four of his seven field goals were dunks. He went to the free-throw line 10 times. He displayed the kind of versatile, all-around game that made Parker such a sensation in November and December and had been missing in January, until Saturday.
“Changing habits is not easy, especially when you were so successful with other habits,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “It’s just a process. He and Jeff Capel worked really hard extra the last couple days. I think motion helps him, in that he gets the ball in different spots, and then it’s up to him: ‘Now you’ve got it, do you attack or do you not attack?’ Today he really attacked.”
Parker was impressive, but he was far from alone. When Duke plays this hard, this aggressively, not many teams are going to have a chance to win. Certainly not N.C. State, which will be able to find few positives in this one -- although despite Parker’s dismissive comments about N.C. State’s front line Friday, T.J. Warren got his 23 points and Kyle Washington was surprisingly effective offensively in the early going.
Beyond that, the Wolfpack experienced massive failures in nearly every other area of the game, from repeated struggles with fundamentals like sideline inbounds plays to ineffective point-guard play, both of which contributed to a staggering 21 turnovers.
The Blue Devils’ engaged and extended defense played a role but N.C. State played into their hands with inexplicable carelessness. N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried watched much of the second half plopped on the State bench with the simultaneously amazed and displeased look of a man getting a very expensive estimate for auto repairs.
“They smelled blood in the water,” Gottfried said. “They went after it.”
He was talking about Duke’s pressure defense but he might as well have been talking about Parker. His slump made national news, just as his impressive early play did to start the season. Parker got back to what works for him. So did Duke. The Wolfpack ended up bearing the brunt.