DURHAM, N.C. -- Nobody expected Vermont to give No. 6 Duke much of a scare.
Yet the Catamounts found a way to score seemingly at will against a program built on defence, and they came perhaps a moment shy of pulling the biggest upset of the young season.
Duke needed a free throw from Rodney Hood with 5 seconds left and one final defensive stand to hold off Vermont's upset bid and beat the Catamounts 91-90 on Sunday night.
Hector Harold scored 24 points and Clancy Rugg finished with 20 for Vermont (1-5).
The America East favourites lost their fourth straight, dressed only nine healthy players but gave Duke all it could handle with by far its best shooting performance of the season.
They "came into Duke with no pressure on us, and we played like there was no pressure on us," coach John Becker said. "Maybe this is a lesson learned for our guys."
Vermont shot 64.8 per cent -- by far, its best performance of the season and the worst defensive showing by Duke.
"We compete and play defence every game and every day at practice," Becker said. "Tonight, the ball went through the basket, and we were able to hang around with a really good team."
Candon Rusin's four-point play with 10.4 seconds left for Vermont tied it at 90. Hood brought the ball downcourt, drove the lane and drew contact from Rugg. Hood bounced his first free throw off the rim, then swished the second.
Sandro Carissimo hurried the Catamounts downcourt and found Rusin in the corner, but he couldn't get a shot off before the buzzer.
"We didn't win this game," Hood said. "We kind of deserved to lose the game, and we got lucky."
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said the Catamounts "were terrific."
"And we were awful," he added.
Jabari Parker scored 26 points in his sixth straight 20-point performance. Hood finished with 22 for Duke (5-1), which extended its nonconference winning streak at Cameron Indoor Stadium to 106 games.
"We played like a team that thought we would just show up and win," Krzyzewski said. "That's how you get beat."
Andre Dawkins scored 16 points and Quinn Cook added 14 for the Blue Devils. Cook broke a tie with a 3-pointer with just under 2 minutes left that made it 86-83.
They stretched their lead to 88-84 on Rasheed Sulaimon's free throw with 40.8 seconds to play before Carissimo made it a two-point game with his tip-in with 29 seconds remaining.
Cook seemingly gave Duke a cushion when his two free throws with 19.4 seconds left made it 90-86 -- but when Sulaimon fouled Rusin on his deep 3-pointer, the Catamounts had another chance.
Carissimo finished with 16 points and Luke Apfeld had 10 for Vermont, which fell to 3-17 against ACC schools and is winless against all of them except for Boston College.
Yet the Catamounts looked plenty capable of taking advantage of a ripe Duke team that struggled all night to stop them.
"We're not connected on the defensive end," Hood said.
When the Blue Devils built a 61-49 lead on Parker's steal and fast-break dunk with 15 1/2 minutes left, that looked like the spark that would get the sluggish Duke defence going.
Instead, Vermont reeled off 10 straight points after that as part of a 13-2 run. Harold's three-point play pulled the Catamounts to 63-62 with just over 11 minutes left.
Carissimo's free throw with 7:50 left tied it at 71. Harold's 3 from the key about a minute later put Vermont up 74-73 -- its first lead since early in the first half -- and neither team led by more than four points the rest of the way.