Alabama used its pressure defense to stay in the game with No. 6 Duke but it just wasn't enough to get the Crimson Tide a victory.
Freshman Jabari Parker matched his season-high with 27 points, setting the school record for consecutive 20-point games to start a career, and the Blue Devils beat Alabama 74-64 on Wednesday night in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off.
"It is November, but I think for our team it's a tough lesson, sometimes with a loss," Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. "But hopefully what we need, it's always going to come down to consistency for us. We've got to step up and make some of the plays in the first half that we didn't make. Obviously Duke had a lot to do with that. But it's a learning experience and we're going to try to get better."
Duke closed the first half on an 11-2 run to take a 33-22 lead and the Blue Devils opened the second half on a 13-6 run for their biggest lead of the game, 46-28 with 15:23 to play.
The Crimson Tide, taking advantage of Duke's season-high 19 turnovers, used a 12-0 run to get within 46-40 with 12:07 left.
"They had a pretty sizable cushion," Grant said. "We weren't able to be effective enough to win the game. Whatever the turnovers were, they scored 74 points in the game, shot a pretty good clip from the field, got to the free throw line quite a bit. I would say their attack against what we were doing was pretty effective."
Trevor Releford, Alabama's leading scorer, finished with 11 points, seven below his season average.
"The way they were guarding I couldn't be aggressive and do the things that I do," he said. "But you've got to learn and I've got to be better for my team."
On the pressing defense that caused the turnovers, Releford said: "That's just how we play. We play like that, get turnovers, and for 40 minutes we just need to be more effective."
Parker entered the game shooting 58 percent and he improved that number by going 9 of 12 from the field. He had eight rebounds and was 9 of 10 from the free throw line in matching his point total in the Blue Devils' only loss, 83-54 to No. 2 Kansas.
"He gets his points in the flow of the offense and we should go through him a lot," coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We had foul trouble with Rodney. Usually it's through them. We went to Jabari even more."
The Blue Devils (6-1) will face No. 4 Arizona, which beat Drexel 66-62, in the championship game on Friday at Madison Square Garden. It's a matchup of the program with the most NIT Season Tip-Off titles — Duke with four — against one of three programs tied for second with three.
"Arizona is older and they are really big for us," Krzyzewski said. "Over the years, we have always played really difficult schedules and this year is no different. I'm just glad we have an opportunity to play for a championship.
"Arizona is probably ahead of some other teams. Arizona, Michigan State, because they have guys who have played prominent roles, back. And then they have added a great guard and a great wing to their lineup, and so they are big. It will be completely different, from playing this game. They can post three guys from their starting lineup. They post their front line. That's where we are not real big. That will be interesting how we try to get that going."
Nick Jacobs led Alabama (3-2) with 18 points and seven rebounds. Algie Key added 11 points.
Duke is 25-2 in the NIT Season Tip-Off and has won 14 straight games in the tournament.
The Blue Devils were coming off a 91-90 home victory over Vermont, a game that ended with the Catamounts having the ball but not getting off a final shot.
It didn't get that close at the end Wednesday, but the Crimson Tide took advantage of the turnovers to be within 56-51 with 5:19 left. Alabama was within six points three times in the final 3:18 but the Blue Devils were able to go up by as many as 10 points.
"Teams play well against us. It's a great opportunity for the sun to shine on a program, and so we have to expect that," Krzyzewski said.
The only other Duke player to start his career with six straight 20-point games was Art Heyman in 1961-62.
"He's probably, in my eight years as a head coach, the most talented freshman I've seen just from his size, his physicality and his skill level," Grant said of Parker. "He's able to make tough shots and free himself for the open shot and he's able to get himself to the free throw line. He's just a really, really talented player. They have got a lot of really good players around them, as well."
The loss dropped Alabama to 32-99 against Top Ten teams. The Crimson Tide's last win over a Top Ten team was Feb. 18, 2006 against then-No. 8 Tennessee.