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Arizona tops Duke to claim preseason NIT

Nov 30, 2013 - 4:36 AM New York, NY ( - Nick Johnson scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half to lead fourth-ranked Arizona to a 72-66 victory over No. 6 Duke and claim the NIT Season Tip-Off championship.

The Wildcats (7-0) trailed 43-37 with under 14 minutes left before outscoring the Blue Devils by a 26-10 margin en route to their fourth all-time title at the prestigious early-season event.

Brandon Ashley added 13 points for Arizona and Kaleb Tarczewski, Aaron Gordon and T.J. McConnell all had 10 in a balanced offensive effort. The Wildcats' defense turned out to be the difference in this heavyweight matchup, however, limiting Duke (6-2) to a 35.7 field goal percentage over the final 20 minutes.

"We're an all-around team," Johnson said. "Really, you could see it in the box score. It was pretty even all the way around. We're a good team and we can play with anybody."

Heralded freshman Jabari Parker netted 19 points for the Blue Devils, but 11 of them came prior to halftime.

Rodney Hood led the Blue Devils, who are in the midst of their first November with more than one loss since 1999-00, with 21 points and eight rebounds. Quinn Cook finished with 13 points in the setback.

Both of Duke's defeats have come to top-five programs, with the Blue Devils previously falling to No. 2 Kansas in Chicago on Nov. 12.

"I thought we played winning basketball and they beat us with winning basketball," Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

Johnson, who was named the tournament's MVP, put up five of his points during a 12-2 run that turned Arizona's 6-point deficit into a 49-45 lead with eight minutes remaining. The junior guard tied the contest with a 3-pointer with 11:07 to go, then followed an Ashley tip-in by driving the baseline and converting a layup to put the Wildcats up by four.

A 3-point play by Hood brought Duke within one, but Arizona countered with an 8-0 spurt to regain the momentum. Gordon was fouled while making a layup and sank the subsequent bonus attempt for a 54-48 lead, and Johnson buried another trey on the Wildcats's ensuing possession to create a 9-point spread with under 6 1/2 minutes to play.

"Nick's become that [go-to guy] for us," said Wildcats head coach Sean Miller. "He's taken big shots. He's made them. True go-to guys are the ones that dig their team out of a gutter or are able to put three or four bad plays behind them and make the next big play."

The Blue Devils were down by double-digits after Gordon fed Rondae Hollis- Jefferson for a dunk to make the score 61-51 with 3:58 left. Duke then used a 7-2 spurt to close within five, but got no closer as Arizona sealed the game with a 6-1 run that came entirely from the foul line.

Arizona shot 80 percent (21-of-26) from the charity stripe for the night.

Both teams executed well during an evenly played first half in which neither side led by more than five points. Parker threw down a dunk off a Tyler Thornton give to snap a 32-32 deadlock with 59 seconds remaining, and Thornton scored after Hollis-Jefferson hit 1-of-2 free throws to send Duke into the locker room holding a 36-33 edge.

Duke was able to lengthen the margin early in the second half, when a Rasheed Sulaimon jumper followed by a Cook 3-pointer staked the Blue Devils to a 43-37 advantage.

Game Notes

Arizona's four NIT Season Tip-Off titles are tied with Duke for the most since 1985 ... The Blue Devils had a 15-game win streak in this tournament halted, with their previous loss coming to Indiana on Nov. 29, 1996 ... The setback was also only Duke's third in its last 18 games held at Madison Square Garden ... Arizona took a 5-4 lead in the all-time series between these powerhouse programs, who last met in the West Regional Semifinal of the 2011 NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats prevailed in that one by a 93-77 count ... Arizona improved to 22-2 overall in this event.