The start of the NIT Season Tip-Off championship game was delayed by an hour, as the preceding game lasted three overtimes. It was worth the wait. No. 4 Arizona beat No. 6 Duke, 72-66, at the Garden in a game in which both teams looked like Final Four contenders.
Arizona (7-0) had five players score in double digits and shot 49 percent to win its fourth NIT Season Tip-Off, tying Duke for the most all time. The Wildcats assisted on 18 of their 23 field goals and used their size advantage to give Duke (6-2) trouble offensively. Arizona's 12-3 run to go up 61-51 with a little less than four minutes remaining was the difference.
Drexel outlasted Alabama, 85-83, in three OTs in the consolation game, and most fans at the Garden groaned with each extra session. They were waiting for the matchup of elite programs and consensus top-four recruits: Duke's Jabari Parker and Arizona's Aaron Gordon.
Parker often demanded the ball, taking 21 shots, including several contested midrange jumpers. He scored 19 points, the first time in his young college career he failed to crack 20. Gordon was quiet in the first half but grew more assertive and finished with 10 points and shot 4-for-6 with seven rebounds and four assists.
"He's a guy you love to have on your team because everything flows better when he's out there," Arizona coach Sean Miller said of Gordon.
During Arizona's big run, point guard T.J. McConnell fed tournament MVP Nick Johnson, who trailed on a fast break and stepped into a jumper for three of his team-high 15 points.
"Nick Johnson wasn't really playing that well early on," Miller said, "but he was able to put it behind him. From the 15:00 mark to the end, I thought he was the best player in the game."
The pass was one of McConnell's eight assists. The transfer, who sat out last season, did a great job facilitating the offense and setting the tone defensively.
With 1:46 left, Parker was fouled on a lay-in after a beautiful spin and backhanded pass from Quinn Cook. His free throw made it 63-58 Arizona, but Duke never got any closer.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has no problems with Parker and Rodney Hood, who had 21 points, shouldering the scoring load. "We're not going to win unless they shoot the ball," he said.