NEW YORK, NOV. 21 -- Duke and Arkansas went chest to chest and scowl to scowl in 40 minutes of scrappiness tonight in Madison Square Garden, a squareoff of unyielding defensive forces that carried at times an intensity reminiscent of the teams' Final Four meeting in Denver seven months ago.
Yet it was a new face amid the Razorbacks' old look that spelled the difference, as they got a needed boost from junior college transfer Isaiah Morris and avenged that national semifinal defeat of April with a 98-88 victory over the Blue Devils to advance to Friday's final of the preseason NIT.
Arkansas will face Arizona, an imposing 91-61 winner over outmanned Notre Dame in tonight's other semifinal. The third-ranked Wildcats got 25 points from forward Chris Mills in a breathtaking display of athleticism, and their "Tucson Skyline" frontcourt hardly had to flex as they raced to an 18-point halftime lead and never looked back.
It was the night's first game, however, that drew most of the attention. And second-ranked Arkansas and No. 6 Duke provided plenty of tenacity, floor burns and face-to-face jawing, although the emphasis on pressure defenses and quick-strike attacks at the basket often left the game a sloppy, disjointed affair.
"It didn't look real good, but it's hard to look good when both teams are going after each other like that," Razorbacks Coach Nolan Richardson said. "Fortunately for us, we were able to make them look worse than they made us look . . . I wasn't really pleased with our overall effort, but we played a tough team and we had it when we needed to."
Arkansas (3-0) erased the Blue Devils' early lead with a late first-half flurry, then took control shortly after the intermission and hardly was threatened thereafter.
Duke (2-1) got a bullish 28 points and 14 rebounds from do-everything forward Christian Laettner and 21 points from sophomore sharpshooter Billy McCaffrey, but the rest of the Blue Devils shot 15 for 42 from the field and Duke never got into sync offensively.
"They play a chaotic style and you need your whole team to beat them," Blue Devils Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We didn't have everyone playing well, not even close to that. But that was Arkansas's doing, believe me."
And the Razorbacks' ability to regroup after their slow beginning was largely Morris's doing. Laettner had eight points as Duke grabbed a 16-9 advantage and forced Richardson into a timeout 6 1/2 minutes into the game. Arkansas' 6-foot-9, extra-hefty center, Oliver Miller, was on the bench with two fouls, and offensive cornerstones Todd Day and Lee Mayberry were en route to a three-for-15 display of first-half misfiring.
Enter Morris, a 6-9 reserve forward from Richmond via famed San Jacinto (Tex.) Junior College. The rest of the first half was his stage, as he provided some inside offense -- 13 points on six-for-10 shooting -- and helped keep Laettner reasonably under control at the other end while the Razorbacks rallied to lead, 44-41, at the break.
"I just wanted to get some rebounds and try to contribute," Morris said. "I wasn't trying to be any kind of hero or anything. It just happened that way."
Day and Mayberry came alive after halftime, and the outcome rarely was in doubt despite Arkansas' inability to pull away. Duke stayed close until about 11 minutes remained, when Day's slam, Morris's tipin of his own miss in transition and Day's hanging baseline jumper capped an 8-2 burst that left the Razorbacks ahead by 71-61.
Duke managed to pull to within seven points on Laettner's two free throws with 3:18 to play, but Arkansas regrouped with five points from Ron Huery and Day's spectacular, spinning drive to grab its biggest lead, 93-81, with 1:58 left.
From there it was merely a matter of the Razorbacks -- who have scored 315 points in their three games -- completing their 30-for-35 performance from the foul line. Six Arkansas players scored in double figures, led by Day's 21 points and Morris's 19 points and 10 rebounds.
"They just never let us get comfortable," Laettner said. "We didn't set up the offense the way we wanted. We never really got into an offense, in fact. If we happened to break their press, we kind of just had a helter-skelter approach. And that won't do it against these guys."
The worst nightmare belonged to sophomore point guard Bobby Hurley, who shot two for 11 and committed seven turnovers -- with numerous other unwarranted mistakes -- under the harassment of Mayberry and others. Duke missed six of seven three-point attempts, had 18 turnovers and left with a frustration epitomized by Krzyzew- ski's second-half blowup that brought a technical foul.
The night's second game had far less drama and competitiveness, but Mills's exploits at least kept matters artistic. The 6-6 sophomore forward -- a transfer from Kentucky, where he was the focal point of the school's scandal and subsequent NCAA probation -- scored from virtually every spot on the floor and every angle conceivable.
Notre Dame (2-1) had no answers to Arizona (3-0) after a 45-27 first half as the Irish fell behind by 25 points 4:36 into the second half and finished a dreadful 26-for-72 shooting evening. Star forward LaPhonso Ellis missed his first eight shots and had but five points.
"They were too much for us," Coach Digger Phelps said. "They were a good team having a very good night, and we just didn't respond. . . . Chris Mills is one fabulous basketball player, as he showed."
Said Mills, who was somewhat sluggish in totaling 25 points in Arizona's first two games: "This is what I should do every night. . . . If I can do it against Arkansas, then that's proving something."
Montgomery-Germantown 125, Harford 76: Shane Brey had 21 points, Billy Moten 19 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, and Robbie Moxley 11 points plus 11 assists as the home team (2-1) overpowered Harford (0-1).