Jabari Parker's star shines as Duke powers past North Carolina

Sunday March 9th, 2014

Jabari Parker's scintillating performance Saturday had the Crazies asking for one more year.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

On a night when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sat courtside in a Duke sweater and Dallas Cowboys' quarterback Tony Romo stood near the Duke bench clapping and shouting "C'mon, JP," Jabari Parker stepped to the foul line with 2:03 to play and Duke leading North Carolina by nine. A fan behind Duke's basket hoisted a sign that read 'ONE MORE YEAR.'

After Parker sank the first free throw, another fan broke Cameron Indoor Stadium's tradition of silence during Blue Devil foul shots: "We want thirty."

Parker sank the second one, giving him 30 points for the first time in his college career. He added a game-high 11 rebounds, leading Duke over North Carolina 93-81 in the latest chapter of college basketball's greatest rivalry. The question on everyone's lips -- from Cameron Crazies to reporters to NBA scouts -- is whether Parker is heading to the NBA after his freshman season.

Afterward he wasn't saying. "My focus right now is on my team and on winning," Parker told SI.com "We have unfinished business in front of us."

If this was Parker's final game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, he saved his best for last. Playing a season-high 35 minutes, he put his NBA-ready offensive repertoire on full display. He nailed 3's. He hit a ridiculous fade away. He finished drives with his left and his right.

But Parker's best play of the night would have made Kevin McHale smile -- a nifty up-and-under move that split two Carolina defenders. Only Parker improvised, finishing with a dunk rather than a finger roll.

Afterward, North Carolina's head coach Roy Williams said Parker played like he was "possessed" and put on a "fantastic exhibition."

Duke's Rodney Hood also turned in his finest performance of the season, adding 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting, including three timely threes that stifled Carolina runs. It was a night when both Blue Devil stars shined.

"Jabari was sensational and so was Rodney," Mike Krzyzewski said. "This is the first game when the two of them were sensational together. Fifty-four points is a lot of points from two kids."

The relentless inside scoring by Parker and Hood put Carolina's big men in early foul trouble. Most notably, forward James McAdoo played just 24 minutes and sat for much of the second half with four fouls. McAdoo scored at will in the first half, hitting three of four shots from the field and going five of six from the line for 11 points.

But McAdoo scored just one second-half field goal, putting a big burden on Carolina guard Marcus Paige, who poured in 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting. But the Tar Heels lacked a strong inside presence on offense. And Duke outrebounded North Carolina 34-20. That was the difference.

The loss snapped a 12-game winning streak for North Carolina and dropped them to the fourth seed in the ACC Tournament. Duke secured the third seed, bouncing back from a loss earlier in the week to Wake Forest.

After the game clock struck zero, Parker put on headphones for a post-game interview at mid-court. Then he left the floor, waving his hand to the crowd. In the locker room he did everything possible to avoid questions about his future plans.

It was past 1:30 a.m. by the time he ducked into a car with his parents and drove to an off-campus hotel in Durham. The nightshift manager was speechless as Parker walked past him and went to Room 206 to wish a happy birthday to a 14-year-old boy who had attended the game with his father.

After posing for pictures with the boy and telling him a few encouraging stories, Parker contemplated his future and smiled. "I love Duke," he said. "And I'm very grateful for where I'm at in my life right now. I have a lot to be thankful for. I've been very blessed."

He patted the 14-year-old on his head. "Have a great birthday," he said.

"This is the best birthday ever," the boy said.

The front desk clerk shook his head as Parker walked past him, climbed into his parents' car and sped off.

"I really respect that boy," the clerk said. "And I think he's ready for the NBA."

Parker sure looked ready for the NBA on Saturday night, but one thing he's not ready for: to announce a decision one way or another on the issue of 'one more year.'

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