If Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood are off to bigger and better things after this season, as they most likely are, they at least had their moment against North Carolina. “One more year,” the fans chanted, but if anything, their performances Saturday only reinforced their imminent departures.
Overwhelmed by their first exposure to the rivalry at the Smith Center in February, the two Duke stars took early control of what was surely their final Cameron Indoor Stadium appearance and never let go in a 93-81 win Saturday.
“No more freshman,” Parker said. “I don’t like getting in that category any more. My team needs me more than just an 18-year-old. They need someone with experience. It’s time to grow up.”
In the process, they halted North Carolina’s winning streak at 12 games, exacted revenge for the earlier loss and set the stage for a potential third meeting in the ACC championship game next weekend in Greensboro.
Duke is at its best when Parker and Hood attack the basket, which they did far more often Saturday than in Wednesday’s loss at Wake Forest. North Carolina struggled mightily to defend them, especially with James Michael McAdoo mired in foul trouble for almost the entire game.
“This is the first game where the two of them were sensational together,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “They’ve both been good together, but this is the first time they’ve been sensational together.”
Sensational is one way to put it. Parker finished with a career-high 30 points, a new career-high and tied for the 15th-best performance by a Duke player against North Carolina, getting to the rim almost at will and adding 11 rebounds on a night Duke had a 34-20 advantage on the boards. Hood scored 24, including two key 3-pointers as Duke held off a North Carolina surge midway through the second half.
A late North Carolina rally put a respectable shine on the final score, and might have done more than that, but the Tar Heels ran out of time, costing them not only their winning streak but the chance to sweep Duke for the first time since 2009.
“Listening to Mike’s comments after the first game, they didn’t have ‘it’ and I agree with him, it’s hard to say what ‘it’ is,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “But whatever the hell ‘it’ is, Jabari found it.”
Neither Parker nor Hood would be drawn into questions about whether this was their last game at Cameron, their de facto senior night, on the actual Senior Night for Tyler Thornton, Josh Hairston and Andre Dawkins. (Former walk-on Todd Zafirovski was honored as well, but did not play.)
Even on a night the spotlight was supposed to belong to the departing seniors, it was unavoidably focused on Parker and Hood. Not coincidentally, that is exactly what it takes for Duke to win. It’s a lesson that should have come sooner -- leaving Duke behind Virginia and Syracuse in the final ACC standings and out of the running for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament -- but may not have come too late.
“Me and Jabari have to be there, no matter what,” Hood said. “That’s what we learned this whole regular season, and we have to take that into the postseason. We have to be there every single day for our teammates.”
If Parker and Hood continue to play with this aggressiveness in Greensboro and beyond, the door is open for Duke to live up to those expectations. Their legacy, and the legacy of Duke’s actual seniors, remains to be written.