One of the hottest debates of the late college basketball season was the ACC Player of the Year battle between T.J. Warren of North Carolina State and Jabari Parker of Duke.
Although Warren beat Parker for Player of the Year honors in the conference, Jabari and his Duke teammates might have gotten the last laugh as a balanced Blue Devil outing was the difference in No. 7 Duke’s 75-67 win on Saturday in the ACC Tournament semifinals in Greensboro.
Parker and Warren led their respective teams in scoring on Saturday afternoon, but Jabari had more help from his Duke teammates on both ends of the floor and it was the difference in the game.
Parker, the All-American freshman, celebrated his birthday with 20 points and eight rebounds, but he was aided in the scoring column by solid outings from Rasheed Sulaimon (16 points), Quinn Cook (14 points) and Rodney Hood (14 points). Duke shot 57 percent from the field for the game and their balance all over the floor was evident throughout the win on Saturday.
After a red-hot first half that saw him score 13 points, Warren was slowed down significantly in the second half as he finished with 21 points and eight rebounds. No other Wolfpack starter finished in double-figures for the game, but Lennard Freeman (13 points) and Cat Barber (12 points) each added points off the bench.
As Duke’s defense doubled T.J. Warren and prevented him from getting comfortable touches, they pulled away in the second half. Every time Warren put the ball on the floor, Duke’s defense collapsed and forced the star sophomore forward to make a play other than scoring. It ultimately limited N.C. State’s offense and now the Wolfpack will spend Selection Sunday sweating as they see if they’ll make it in the field of 68.
We’ve seen all season that Duke can put up points. With capable scorers like Jabari Parker and Rodney hood, getting buckets will never be an issue with this Blue Devil group. But if Duke defends like they did in the second half on Saturday, they become a championship contender. The Duke defense made it tough on Warren — one of the best and most efficient scorers in the country — in the second half and if they can stop a guy like him from doing significant damage than it is a very good sign entering the NCAA Tournament.
Duke advances to face No. 6 Virginia in the ACC Tournament title game on Sunday and both teams still have an outside shot at a No. 1 seed.