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DURHAM, N.C. (AP) - East Carolina went from flirting with a possible blowout loss to threatening No. 6 Duke with a big upset on its famed home court.
The Pirates rallied from an 18-point deficit and twice pulled within a point in the final eight minutes before falling to the Blue Devils 83-74 on Tuesday night in the NIT Season Tipoff. The first step was withstanding Duke's 11-for-11 shooting start, and then scrapping on the offensive boards to steadily chip away at the Blue Devils' lead.
The performance left coach Jeff Lebo _ who had played in Cameron Indoor Stadium during his time with Duke's hated rival North Carolina during the 1980s _ with plenty to build on in his fourth season.
"I was proud of our team to withstand that," he said of Duke's hot start. "A lot of teams in here have buckled under that barrage of offense."
East Carolina shot nearly 45 percent after halftime and made 19 of 20 free throws for the game to go with a 16-3 edge in second-chance points, all of which kept the Pirates moving forward once Duke finally cooled off.
"I think to start the game we were a little shell-shocked maybe," said Paris Roberts-Campbell, who scored 11. "But once we started getting a few stops we started seeing the ball go through the basket on our end more, I think that just fueled our fans and our bench. Everybody just got into it. And we realized we could really play with these guys."
In the end, Rodney Hood scored a career-high 30 points to help the Blue Devils hang on.
Freshman Jabari Parker had 21 points and nine rebounds for the Blue Devils (4-1), who survived a tougher-than-expected fight from the underdog Pirates (4-1) to improve to 24-2 all-time in the early season tournament.
Duke did enough in the final 2 1/2 minutes to secure the win, advancing to next week's semifinals in New York's Madison Square Garden.
Prince Williams scored 15 for the Pirates, who fell to 0-21 all-time against Duke, though the Pirates flirted with earning their first win against a ranked opponent in nearly 11 years.
Duke led 41-23 with 3:41 left in the first half, but the Pirates didn't let the Blue Devils put together a knockout run. Instead, the Pirates closed the gap to 11 by halftime, and then kept inching closer and closer after halftime.
East Carolina twice got within a point, the last coming on Williams' free throws with 6:58 left, but never could push in front.
Duke helped itself by playing with composure down the stretch, hitting all eight of its free throws in the final 2:34 to stay in control. Parker also came through with a big defensive sequence with Duke protecting a 75-70 lead, swatting a leaner from Williams out of bounds and then stuffing a driving shot from Antonio Robinson.
Hood hit two free throws to make it 77-70, and East Carolina didn't get closer than five again.
Duke finished 24 for 31 from the foul line, including 19 for 24 after halftime.
It was the second game in as many nights for both teams, who were playing in a four-team pod at Cameron.
The Blue Devils beat UNC Asheville 91-55 on Monday night. The Pirates had a much tougher time in their Tipoff opener, needing to rally from 17 down after halftime to beat Norfolk State 76-74.
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