The 1967 ACC Tournament semifinal game between Duke and South Carolina might have been the most explosive matchup in conference history.
You have to look at the background of that game to understand why the atmosphere was so volatile that night in the Greensboro Coliseum.
Back in the old Southern Conference days, there was no such thing as a Duke-South Carolina rivalry. Oh, the two schools met with regularity, but Duke dominated the series for a half century, winning 52 of 63 matchups between 1914 and 1965.
All that changed with the arrival of Frank McGuire in Columbia. The former UNC and NBA coach engineered a stunning homecourt upset of No. 3 Duke in December of 1965 - just days before Duke swept two games with two-time defending NCAA champ UCLA to climb to No. 1 for the first time in school history.
McGuire had a good young teams with talented sophs such as Gary Gregor up front, with undersized forward Frank Standard and the talented twosome of Frank Thompson and Skip Harlicka in the backcourt. They were a bit undersized, but still good enough to take Duke to the wire in the rematch in Durham, fighting all the way in a 41-38 Blue Devil win.
The Gamecock coach expected to be even better in 1966-67 with all five starters back and the addition of one of the best prep big man in the country - New Jersey's Mike Grosso. McGuire told reporters that the 6-9 Grosso was similar to Wake Forest star Len Chappell, who had recently graduated after averaging 30 points and 15 rebounds while leading the Deacs to the 1962 Final Four.
But there was a problem with Grosso. He had failed to meet the ACC standard of 800 on his SATs, which meant that he was not eligible for a scholarship at an ACC school. South Carolina got around that problem by having Grosso pay his own way - actually the story was that the money came from a rich uncle, who owned a bar back in Raritan, N.J.
Only there were those who didn't believe that story. Somebody tipped both the ACC and the NCAA that South Carolina was using the uncle to funnel funds to Grosso under the table. Both organizations investigated and discovered that the rumors were true - the ACC ruled that Grosso (who averaged 23 points and 26 rebounds as a freshman team member) could not play varsity ball in the league. The NCAA added two years of probation and a postseason ban.
Who blew the whistle on South Carolina?
It was widely believed at the time - largely because McGuire shouted it from the rooftops - that Duke's Eddie Cameron was the snitch. However, a few years ago, I was going through Cameron's papers at Duke Library and discovered a letter from the president of Clemson University, admitting that he was the whistleblower.
It makes no difference - McGuire was convinced that Cameron had robbed him of Grosso and like cheaters always do, they directed their anger at the person - and school - that they thought had called them on their cheating.
McGuire inflamed the entire South Carolina fan base against Duke - taking it to a level of hatred that not even the Christian Laettner or J.J. Redick Devils had to endure. He was always a pugnacious coach. His teams at UNC and South Carolina were engaged in more brawls than every other school put together. McGuire publically talked about Duke officials as creatures that lived in the gutter … off the record, he was even more inflammatory. He once blamed a loss to N.C. State in Raleigh on Duke's Cameron - claiming that the Duke athletic director manipulated the league's officials like a puppeteer.
As the bitterness grew, a group of South Carolina fans formed an organization known as Project GETOUT to encourage South Carolina to exit the ACC. Things got so ugly that Cameron thought it better to cancel the two 1967 games with the Gamecocks, blaming the decision on, "the unfriendly atmosphere created by remarks made by a representative of the University of South Carolina."
That prompted even more anger from the Gamecock faithful, although after a near-riot at a Clemson-South Carolina game in Columbia that winter, one level-headed South Carolina fan wrote Cameron a letter of apology, admitting, "I now understand what you were afraid of."
As it happened, Duke and South Carolina finished second and third in the league standings that season, behind Final Four-bound North Carolina. All the Gamecocks had to do was to get past sixth-seeded Maryland in the quarterfinals to earn a chance to face Duke (provided the Devils beat seventh seeded Virginia)
"Do you realize, it's just fate that put us in the bracket with Duke," the South Carolina coach said after the Gamecocks edged the Terps on Thursday afternoon. "Now we can look forward to playing Duke tomorrow - if they get past Virginia. But there's no bitterness involved. It's just that one university was offended by another university when our games with them were cancelled."
With Bob Verga on target, Duke had no trouble with Virginia in the second game that Thursday afternoon, That set up the Friday night semifinal between the two teams that had not played each other during the regular season.
It turned out to be a classic game.
Neither team could open a comfortable lead as the two teams were tied 17 times. South Carolina seemed to be in good shape, holding the ball with less than a minute left in a tie game. It was clear that McGuire was going to hold it for the last shot (possible in that pre-shot clock era). But Duke senior Bob Riedy knocked the ball out of the hands of South Carolina point guard Jack Thompson. Verga picked up the loose ball and converted it into a layup - just as he was fouled from behind by Thompson. His free throw gave Duke a three-point lead that proved to be the final margin of victory in Duke's 69-66 win.
"It was a game with a lot of emotion, but I was glad to see that it was played hard and clean all the way," Duke's Vic Bubas said afterward.
Even McGuire was gracious, praising the refs and saying, "it was a wonderful game."
Of course, that didn't end the bitterness. Duke and South Carolina resumed their "rivalry" and played some controversial and hotly contested games over the next four years. South Carolina won most of them, but McGuire went nuts - blaming the refs again - after Duke edged the 'Cocks in the 1969 ACC Tournament. The next year in Columbia, John Roche deliberately kicked Duke's DeVenzio when he was on the floor - just one of many violent and dirty plays by the Gamecocks in that era. Duke got revenge a year later, when the unranked Blue Devils upset No. 10 South Carolina in the Gamecocks' last trip to Durham.
It was the last trip because Project GETOUT had finally succeeded. Actually, it was South Carolina athletic director/football coach Paul Dietzel who led the move out of the ACC. In the 43 years since that exit, Duke and South Carolina have played one time - a Duke victory in Maui early in the 2000-01 season.
WHAT IS A RIVALRY
I told that story to frame what I think is a key question.
What is a rivalry?
Was Duke-South Carolina a rivalry? It was a hot series for maybe five or six years - and at one point was the hottest matchup in the ACC - but for most of Duke's basketball history, it was just another game.
The ACC is rife with short-term "rivalries" like that.
Duke' rivalry with N.C. State topped everything in the last days of the Southern Conference. The Blue Devils won their fifth conference title in nine years in 1946, but that spring, Everett Case arrived at N.C. State and for the next decade-plus, Duke was constantly frustrated by Case's Red Terrors - Duke lost title games to N.C. State in 1948, 1950, 1951, 1952 and 1955 (plus semifinal losses in 1954 and 1956).
But the Duke-State rivalry was soon replaced by State-Wake, then State-UNC as the ACC's biggest showdown.
In the early 1960s, Duke and Wake dueled for ACC supremacy, combining to win five straight titles - four of the championship games matched the two private schools. In the early 1970s, the N.C. State-Maryland series was the ACC headliner, producing some of the greatest games in conference history. A decade later, it was UNC-Virginia, when Ralph Sampson helped the Cavs challenge Michael Jordan, James Worthy and Sam Perkins.
How do those rivalries rate?
Isn't it a travesty to compare UNC-Virginia or N.C. State-Maryland with a real rivalry - like Duke-UNC -- one that's stood the test of time.
Okay, I understand that we're arguing semantics here.
Earlier this week, Mike Krzyzewski took exception to a reporter who suggested that Rasheed Sulaimon was playing "great" in recent games. No, Krzyzewski, corrected him, insisting that Sulaimon has played "very well."
I suppose a coach who had seen the likes of Johnny Dawkins, Danny Ferry, Christian Laettner, Shane Battier, Jason Williams and J.J. Redick at their peaks is a little reluctant to pass out the "great" label.
Isn't it the same with the word "rivalry"?
It's a word that is thrown around way too loosely. After that great Duke-Syracuse game earlier this month, commentators were quick to talk about an instant rivalry.
Is it a real rivalry between two schools that have met exactly five times in 50 years?
At the moment, Duke and Syracuse are the two best teams in the ACC (I know Virginia has a better ACC record, but c'mon, don't be snarky). Naturally, their matchups are going to attract attention. But let's let the two schools build a bit of history before we label it a rivalry. And I'm not talking about the next three or four years when Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim are in command … I'm talking about the next decade or so when we see whether their replacements can maintain the high standards - and the intensity -- that we saw two weeks ago.
Only then will we know if Duke-Syracuse is a rivalry in the same sense as Duke-UNC or Auburn-Alabama or Ohio State-Michigan or Yankees-Red Sox …
Or a faux rivalry like State-Maryland in the '60s or UNC-Virginia in the '70s or Duke-South Carolina in the late 1960s …
Or like Duke-Maryland in the early days of this century.
THE BLUE DEVILS AND THE TERPS
When did Duke-Maryland become a "rivalry"?
Back in the 20th century - seems like ancient history now, doesn't it? - nobody would have called Duke-Maryland anything more than an ordinary ACC matchup - no more special than Duke-Virginia or Duke-Georgia Tech … and significantly less significant than Duke-N.C. State or Duke-Wake Forest.
Oh, there were some good Duke-Maryland games over the years (this week's snow reminds me of the 1980 ACC title game), but on the whole, except for the decade of the 1970s, the Blue Devils beat the Terps with regularity. Krzyzewski lost eight of his first 11 while he was building his program. But starting in 1985, he won 21 of his next 22 games against Maryland.
That success frustrated Maryland coach Gary Williams, who made it his mission in life to surpass Krzyzewski and Duke. He thought he had a great chance in 1999 when juco transfer Steve Francis energized a talented team. When Duke came to Cole Field House just after New Year's, Maryland was ranked No. 4 in the nation and very confident of beating the No. 2 Blue Devils. Instead, Elton Brand, Trajan Langdon and company disposed of the Terps with relative ease, breaking open a close game at the half and winning 82-64. When the two teams met in Cameron a month later, it was just as lopsided (95-77) - that was the game Shane Battier exploded as a 3-point shooter after watching a documentary about Shaolin Monks.
At that point, Maryland was Duke's whipping boy, not a rival.
A year later, Duke went up to College Park early in the conference season and won by 10. Late in the season, Gary Williams finally did break through in Cameron, beating the Devils 98-87 as sophomore Juan Dixon poured in 31 points for the Terps. But Duke answered that loss with an easy 81-68 victory in the ACC title game, restoring its dominance to the rivalry.
But things were heating up and in 2001, the Duke-Maryland series would explode with four classic games. There was Duke's incredible comeback in College Park, where Jason Williams, Shane Battier and company erased a 10-point deficit in the final 55 seconds and won in overtime. There was Maryland's dramatic win in Cameron, when Duke's Carlos Boozer was lost with a broken foot. Then the ACC Tournament semifinal, a thriller won by Nate James' last second tip-in. Finally, there was Duke's remarkable rally from 22 points down to beat Maryland in the NCAA semifinals - 48 hours before winning the national title.
At that point, Duke-Maryland was the hottest thing in college basketball - even surpassing Duke-Carolina.
The rivalry remained torrid in 2002 as the two teams split in the regular season. Maryland won the regular season title, Duke won the ACC championship (after N.C. State upset Maryland in the semifinals). Duke finished No. 1 in the final regular season poll, but Maryland topped that by winning the national championship.
There was even a little individual spark to the rivalry as Maryland's Dixon won the ACC player of the year award … while Duke's Williams was the consensus national player of the year.
Maryland continued to battle Duke on even terms for a few years. Between 2001 and 2007, the Devils won just eight of 15 matchups. But starting in 2008, Duke regained its historic dominance of the Terps, winning 12 of the last 15 matchups.
In reality, Duke-Maryland was another of those short-term rivalries - like State-Maryland in the early '70s or UNC-Virginia in the early '80s.
But there was one difference - dictated by expansion and ESPN.
From 1955 to 2004, the ACC basically played a balanced, home-and-home schedule (with just a few exceptions - like 1967, when Duke and South Carolina played two less games than everybody else). But the league's expansion in the summer of 2004 added two more teams for 2005 and a third newcomer in 2006. With 11 and 12 ACC teams, it became impossible to play a balanced, home-and-home schedule.
In making out the new, unbalanced schedule, ACC officials determined that every school would have two permanent partners. For Duke, the two annual matchups with UNC were a given - that was the most valuable regular season property in ESPN's inventory.
But Duke's second partner should have been N.C. State, its next most important rival. If not that, then Wake Forest - it's oldest rival.
But that was the height of the Duke-Maryland mania and ESPN wanted to insure that there would continue to be two annual games between the Blue Devils and Terps. As a result, the two unnatural rivals were linked together - forcing the more historical rivalries with N.C. State and Wake Forest to the sidelines (and often to once-a-year matchups).
It's been an uncomfortable marriage for Duke because it's a game that usually means MUCH more to Maryland - especially their fan base - than to Duke. The Terps play Duke and they riot and burn cars. The Devils play Maryland and the Crazies chant, "Not our rivals."
Well, Saturday will be their last chance - at least for the foreseeable future - to revive that chant. Maryland is heading for the Big Ten and by this time next year, I'm sure they'll be forgotten on Tobacco Road and we'll be debating whether Duke-Louisville is an instant rivalry.
There is an awful lot of bitterness surrounding Maryland's departure. ACC officials believe Maryland officials acted unethically in their secret machinations. Maryland partisans believe that the league has screwed them in scheduling and in officiating this season. The bitterness is going to play out in court as Maryland fights its exit fee and has countersued for … well, I don't know what, but I'm not a lawyer.
I do know that there are some happy to see Maryland go because the Terps have the worst fan base in the ACC - Comcast has been a hotbed of organized profanity and a dangerous place for visiting fans.
On the other hand, I'm an ACC historian and I hate to see the void that Maryland's departure leaves in our league.
The Terps were one of seven original ACC members - and were an important one. The ACC was formed by seven Southern Conference schools who chafed at the fact that the majority of teams in that 17-member league fought against big-time sports. The conference even passed a bowl ban that Maryland and Clemson defied in 1952. The unbeaten Terps finished No. 2 in the nation that season. In 1953, Jim Tatum would lead Maryland to the national title.
For three seasons, Duke and Maryland were the premier football programs in the ACC. Unfortunately, the two superpowers didn't play each other and both were unbeaten in the ACC's first three seasons.
Maryland football didn't last long. Coach Jim Tatum left for North Carolina and the program rapidly collapsed under his successor, Tommy Mont. It wouldn't be a contender again until Jerry Claiborne's arrival in the early '70s.
On the other hand, Maryland basketball was the only non-Big Four program to fight the dominance of the four North Carolina schools in the 1950s. Coach Bud Millikan was a defensive guru and his teams were brutal to play against. They were famous for choking on Tobacco Road, but proved to be formidable at home. In 1958, the Terps didn't choke in North Carolina, beating regular season champ Duke in the ACC Tournament semifinals, then knocking off defending national national champ UNC in the title game in Raleigh.
That would be the only non-Big Four title until South Carolina finally broke through in 1971 - its last year in the league.
Maryland basketball dropped off in the 1960s and Millikan took a bold step to restore the program's fortunes - he recruited the first black basketball players in ACC history. Billy Jones and Pete Johnson played freshman ball in 1965. A year later, Jones played varsity ball (Johnson missed the season for academic reasons) - the same year Texas Western won the national title with an all-black starting lineup in a game was played in Cole Field House.
The Terps didn't bounce back until hiring Davidson coach Lefty Driesell in 1969. The former Duke player vowed to make Maryland "the UCLA of the East". He never quite achieved that, but by 1973, his young team with Tom McMillen, Len Elmore and freshman John Lucas was battling the Tommy Burleson-David Thompson N.C. State teams for ACC and national supremacy.
The Terps never won a title in that era - losing close games to State in the 1973, 1974 and 1975 ACC Tournaments - but left a mark,. Many observers - including this writer - consider the 1974 State-Maryland ACC championship game to be the greatest college basketball game ever played.
Driesell's program continued at a high level, but always seemed to fall just short at both the ACC and the national level. He lost ACC title games in 1980 and 1981 on last-second shots and never reached a Final Four.
Maryland did finally break through in the 1984 ACC title game, rallying in the second half to beat Mike Krzyzewski's sophomore-dominated Duke team. That victory belonged in large measure to sophomore Len Bias, whose tragic death in of a cocaine overdose after winning ACC player of the year honors in 1986, helped end Driesell's tenure at Maryland and set the program back for a decade.
Gary Williams, who played at Maryland under Millikan in the '60s, finally brought Maryland back in the 1990s. We've talked about his battles with Duke - his 2001 team made the school's first Final Four trip followed a year later by Maryland's first (and still only) national championship. He won Maryland's third ACC title in 2004 and even won a share of the 2010 regular season title before turning the program over to Mark Turgeon.
And now it's almost over.
Next year, when Maryland is enjoying trips to Iowa and Purdue, I'm not going to miss the Maryland paranoia nor the boorish behavior of their fans.
But I will miss the legacy of Bud Millikan, Lefty Driesell and Gary Williams. I'll miss losing the school that integrated ACC basketball and invented Midnight Madness. I'll argue that Gene Shue, Tom McMillen, John Lucas, Len Bias and Juan Dixon still belong to the ACC, even as the Terps leave.
It's a sad breakup after 61 years of partnership.
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