It wasn't so long ago that everything seemed to be going North Carolina's way in the greatest rivalry in all of sports.
In the fall of 2009, UNC was coming off its fifth national championship and seemed to be in control of its rivalry with Duke. After a rough start (1-4 in his first five Duke-UNC games), Roy Williams had won six of seven games with the Blue Devils.
Tar Heel fans boasted that he had Coach K's number. And that claim didn't seem so fanciful on the November afternoon when Harrison Barnes - the nation's number one recruit -- went on ESPN and skyped the news that he would play in Chapel Hill and not Durham.
It looked like Roy's domination of K would become a long-term thing.
Instead, the 2009-10 season proved to be a turning point in the rivalry. UNC stumbled through an NIT season, while Duke won the ACC title and soared to its fourth national championship under Krzyzewski. Head-to-head, Duke beat the staggering Heels in Chapel Hill, then finished the regular season with a memorable (for Duke fans) 82-50 humiliation of UNC in Cameron.
In the four seasons since the afternoon the Black Falcon skyped into Chapel Hill, Duke has won seven of nine games head-to-head in the rivalry. Duke has two ACC championships to none for the Tar Heels and has 11 NCAA wins to seven for UNC.
And just to cap it off, in the fall of 2013, Jahlil Okafor - the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2014 - went on ESPN and announced that he would play his college basketball at Duke. He didn't use skype, but he did coordinate his announcement with his buddy Tyus Jones, the No. 1 point guard in the class.
It looks like K's recent domination of Roy will be a long-term thing.
Or will it?
What happened to UNC after its high point in 2009 should serve as a warning to blissful Duke fans that the momentum in the rivalry has a cruel way of swinging back and forth. It went Carolina's way for three seasons (2007-09) and it has been in Duke's favor for the last four years.
I don't think the rivalry is about to swing again. Duke is the better team this season and has been playing at a higher level, despite UNC's current five-game winning streak.
That doesn't mean I'm confident that Duke will win tonight - just that a single homecourt win for UNC doesn't necessarily change the direction of the rivalry (it didn't when UNC won at home in 2011). When UNC puts two of three wins together or emerges as the better team, THEN we can start talking about another swing in the rivalry.
It's going to happen sooner or later (probably later). But be prepared. That's what makes Duke-UNC the rivalry it is.
"This is a great rivalry because it's stood the test of time," Krzyzewski said of the upcoming matchup with UNC. "When something it great, it means that it's been there for a long time and has a certain excellence about it. Our games with North Carolina over the decades have proven to have stood that test of greatness. Whatever you want to use to describe a great rivalry, Duke and Carolina can check off all the boxes."
A HISTORY OF DRAMA
The first ACC basketball game I ever saw in person was a Duke-UNC game.
That was in 1960 when I was 11 years old. My family lived in Charlotte, but my father got ACC Tournament tickets, so I was excused from school that Thursday and Friday for the trip to Raleigh.
As I turned out, I didn't need an excused absence - on that Wednesday night, a weather system dropped 12 inches of snow on the Piedmont of North Carolina. Everybody was excused from Thursday and Friday classes. Worse, because of the bad weather, my father postponed our trip 24 hours, so that I missed the quarterfinals.
We made it in time for Friday night's semifinals. I can still remember parking near old Riddick Stadium and dodging the piles of snow in the parking lots as we walked to Reynolds Coliseum. The first game was 13-10 Duke against 18-5 UNC, ranked No. 16 in the nation with Doug Moe, York Larese and ACC player of the year Lee Shaffer. The Tar Heels had routed Duke three times in the regular season - 75-53 in the Dixie Classic; 84-58 in Chapel Hill; and 75-50 in Durham just six days earlier.
But this Friday night was different. Forward Carroll Youngkin, a junior from Winston-Salem, had a career night against Shaffer, scoring 30 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. Duke opened up a 35-23 halftime lead, then fought off a furious UNC comeback, thanks to some clutch free throws from little guard Johnny Frye.
That 71-69 victory put Duke in the finals against Wake Forest, where center Doug Kistler - who later became my high school basketball coach - dominated the great Len Chappell to give Duke its first ACC championship.
That was my introduction to ACC basketball and to the Duke-UNC rivalry.
Over the years, I've seen almost all of the great moments in the rivalry - either in person or on TV. Here are my impressions of the dozen greatest moments in the rivalry, done Letterman fashion. You'll notice that they have a Duke lean - I was there when Walter Davis saved UNC in 1974, for the bloody Montross game in '92 and for UNC's double-overtime classic in 1995 - but this is a Duke list. I'm sure a Carolina guy could do an equally memorable list from UNC's point of view - that's the glory of the rivalry that both sides have had their moments of greatness.
One other small caveat. My list is taken from my memory, not from research. I'd have loved to see the game in 1946, when John Seward, just months out of a Nazi prisoner of war camp, led Duke to a victory in Chapel Hill over a great UNC team. I wish I could have seen the 1938 Never-a-Dull-Moment boys close out the regular season (and kick off their improbable Southern Conference title run) by upsetting UNC in Durham. And it would have been fun to visit the old Tin Can in 1920 to see who actually hit the game-winning shot (a factoid lost to history) as Trinity rallied from a big second half deficit to beat UNC 19-18 for the school's first win in the series.
But I've only read about those games.
These are my personal top 12 from my memory:
No. 12 - No. 16 Duke 77, No. 1 UNC 75, Mar. 10, 1984: After two close calls - the first the famous "Double-standard" game in Durham, the second a double-overtime game in Chapel Hill -- Mike Krzyzewski's sophomore-dominated Blue Devils finally broke through against Dean Smith's most talented team in the ACC semifinals in Greensboro. Mark Alarie outplayed first-team All-American Sam Perkins, Jay Bilas outplayed future No. 1 NBA draft pick Brad Daugherty and David Henderson kept national player of the year Michael Jordan in check (22 points, but just 11-for-23 shooting). Coach K later told ESPN that the '84 ACC Tournament win over UNC was the moment his program arrived.
11. No. 3 Duke 21, UNC 20, Mar. 4, 1966: It was a great Duke team that had twice defeated the Tar Heels by double figures in the regular season. But in those days, the only way to earn an NCAA bid was to win the ACC Tournament and Dean Smith saved his biggest surprise for the powerful Blue Devils in the semifinals. He unleashed the Four Corners delay game - a tactic he had tested briefly in wins over Kentucky two years earlier and on the road at Ohio State earlier that season. Unwilling to match up one-on-one with UNC offensive stars Larry Miller and Bob Lewis, Duke's Bubas kept his team in a zone. The result was the slowest game in ACC history to that point (and still the second-slowest of all time). Duke led 7-5 at the half, but UNC was up 17-12 before guard Steve Vacendak brought the Devils back. The game was tied at 20 when sophomore center Mike Lewis walked to the line for two free throws with four seconds left. He missed the first, but courageously sank the second to give Duke a one-point win.
10. No. 7 Duke 71, No. 2 UNC 70, Feb. 9, 2005: It was a rare instance when UNC was favored in Cameron, but a great defensive game by the Devils, especially center Shelden Williams (5 blocks and 5 steals) gave Duke the lead most of the way. UNC had a chance in the final seconds after Daniel Ewing missed what would been a game-clinching 3-pointer. But Chris Duhon made an amazing defensive transition to break up UNC's ensuing fast break and on the final possession, J.J. Redick - of all people - prevented UNC from running the play that Roy Williams had called in the huddle and the Tar Heels never got off a shot. The last memorable imagine of the game was a frustrated Ray Felton staring in disbelief at an equally befuddled Rashad McCants.
9. No. 6 Duke 47, No. 4 UNC 40, Feb. 24, 1979 - In almost a replay of the 1966 ACC semifinals, Dean Smith opened the game in the Four Corners and Duke coach Bill Foster refused to come out of his zone. UNC ended up attempting two shots in the half - a baseline air ball from Rich Yonaker and a long heave at the halftime buzzer by guard Dave Colescott that also missed everything. Duke was up 7-0 at the half and the "Air ball" chant was born. UNC's Smith elected to play it straight in the second half and the two teams each scored 40 points as Duke won 47-40. Jim Spanarkel, playing his last game in Cameron, led all scorers with 17 points, hitting 8-of-9 field goal attempts.
8. No. 1 Duke 83, No. 17, UNC 81 in OT, Feb. 5, 2004: Favored Duke led most of the way, but UNC's Rashad McCants keyed a furious Tar Heel rally and tied the game with a late 3-pointer to force overtime. In the extra period, Duke again opened up a lead, but McCants tied the game again with second left. Rather than take a timeout, Duke inbounded to senior guard Chris Duhon, who pushed the ball up the left side, then knifed to the basket, scoring a reverse layup in traffic to give the Devils the win in the Smith Center.
7. No. 2 Duke 95, No. 4 UNC 81, Mar. 4, 2001: Even though Duke was ranked higher, UNC was heavily favored after a broken foot earlier in the week sidelined Blue Devil star Carlos Boozer. UNC could clinch the ACC regular season title with a win, but Krzyzewski revamped his ream, moving freshman Chris Duhon into the starting lineup and unleashing a barrage of 3-pointers. It was close at the half (Duke up two), but midway through the second half, Shane Battier caught Joe Forte from behind on a breakaway and blocked his layup - a play that ignited a Duke spurt that led to the lopsided victory. Not only did the win give Duke a share of the regular season title, but it ignited a 10-game winning streak that ended with the Devils cutting down the nets in Minneapolis after winning the school's third national title.
Note: Monday afternoon, Amile Jefferson cited this game - and the Battier block of Forte - as his earliest memory of the rivalry.
6. No. 10 Duke 85, No. 5 North Carolina 84, Feb. 8, 2012: The Austin Rivers' dagger shot. UNC trailed early, but seized command just before halftime and opened up a double-figure lead that held up most of the second half. The lead was still 10 points when Harrison Barnes scored with 2:37 to play. But Tyler Thornton started the comeback with a 3-pointer and with 14 seconds left, Mason Plumlee rebounded a missed free throw to give the Devils a chance for the final shot. Freshman Austin Rivers brought the ball up slowly, moved to his right and launched a 3-point try over 7-footer Tyler Zeller at the buzzer. The shot swished, stunning the 20,000 UNC fans in the Dome.
5. Duke 66, No. 11 UNC 65 in OT, Feb. 28, 1981: Not only Krzyzewski's first-ever win over UNC, the 1981 regular season finale was a fitting Senior Day exit for a player who helped revive Duke's basketball fortunes after almost a decade of mediocrity. Gene Banks was Bill Foster's greatest recruiting coup and he helped Duke reach the Final Four in his freshman year. As a senior under Coach K, he was the best player on a 17-win team. In the regular season finale, he kept Duke in the game with the Final-Four bound Tar Heels with his 25 points, seven rebounds. With Duke down two with a second left in regulation, he took an inbounds pass from Kenny Dennard and launched a high-arching 15-footer over the long arms of Sam Perkins. It swished to force overtime. In the extra period, Banks scored the game-winner on a follow shot. Banks grabbed the mascot's pitchfork and held it high as he was carried off the floor.
4. Duke 71, No. 16 UNC 69, Mar. 4, 1960: The 1960 ACC Tournament semifinal upset that I described earlier.
3. No. 4 Duke 81, No. 5 UNC 77, Feb. 4, 1961 - Easily the most bitter game in the history of the rivalry. It all centered around Art Heyman, a Long Island prep star who first committed to UNC, but switched to Duke after his stepfather got into a fight with UNC coach Frank McGuire. A year earlier, Heyman was involved in a brutal brawl when he was cold-cocked during a freshman game with UNC in Siler City. The '61 meeting in Durham was so ugly that in the freshman game before the main affair, UNC finished the game with four players after seven were ejected or fouled out. There was a near brawl in the first half of the varsity game and an incident when the teams left the floor at halftime that led to assault charges being filed against Heyman for hitting a male UNC cheerleader (the charges were later dismissed). Through it all, Heyman destroyed Doug Moe, the best defensive player in the ACC in that era. The Duke soph poured in 36 points on 11 of 13 shooting from the floor to push Duke to a safe lead in the final seconds. But with moments remaining, he grabbed UNC's Larry Brown to prevent a meaningless layup. Brown responded by throwing the ball in Heyman's face, then following with a punch. Future NBA exec Donnie Walsh raced off the UNC bench and clobbered Heyman from behind. The scene dissolved into the wildest brawl in ACC history - a fight that lasted 10 minutes before order was restored. Heyman (along with Brown and Walsh) was suspended, but interesting fact - he never lost to UNC again and on his Senior Day, punished the Tar Heels with a career high 40 points and 24 rebounds in a 106-93 rout.
2. No. 1 Duke 77, No. 3 UNC 75, Feb. 28, 1998: North Carolina had blown out Duke earlier in Chapel Hill and seemed to be doing it again in Durham. UNC led by 12 at the half and stretched that to 17 points with just over 11 minutes left to play. That's when freshman Elton Brand, who had missed most of the season with a broken foot, went to work. He scored on four straight possessions to jump-start the comeback. Senior Roshown McLeod also got hot as Duke scored on 15 of 18 possessions to close the gap. Soph Chris Carrawell scored his only basket of the game to tie the score at 75 and moments later, McLeod scored over Antawn Jamison to give Duke its first lead. UNC missed four free throws in the final 10 seconds to give Duke the win and the ACC regular season title. The most memorable image of the day was the shot of senior point guard Steve Wojciechowski racing across the court to leap into Krzyzewski's arms.
1. No. 10 Duke 87, No. 3 UNC 86, 3 OT, Mar. 2, 1968: The Freddie Lind game. The game itself was incredible enough as Duke battled the Final Four bound Tar Heels into triple overtime. But what made the game unique was the unexpected hero. Fred Lind was a junior from Illinois who almost never got off the bench. He had played a total of 33 minutes and scored 12 points - all in garbage time - in Duke's first 23 games. But with All-American center Mike Lewis in foul trouble, the 6-7 Lind was called on to defend 6-11 UNC center Rusty Clark. Lewis ended up with 18 points and 18 rebounds before he fouled out with eight minutes left and the Devils trailing. Lind stepped in and improbably began to make winning plays. He had 16 points and nine rebounds off the bench, hitting two free throws to force the first overtime and an unbelievable 20-foot jumper on the fast break to force a second OT. Veteran Steve Vandenberg made what proved to be the winning basket, but only after Lind had blocked Clark to give him a chance. Thousands of students waited after the game in the area between Duke Indoor Stadium and Card Gym, waiting to carry the unlikely hero to the Chapel. The ride didn't make it that far, but Lind still enjoyed one of the great post-game moments in Duke basketball history.
Re-reading this list, I can't believe the moments I left out - the Robbie West game-winner in 1972 (on the day when Duke Indoor Stadium was renamed Cameron Indoor Stadium) … the great overtime win in 2000, when Jason Williams followed a terrible 40 minutes with a dominant performance in overtime … Dick DeVenzio's great performance in 1969, when Dean Smith said the Tar Heels lost the game two years earlier, when DeVenzio picked Duke over UNC … the delicious 82-50 rout from 2010 or the terrific comeback in 2011 … the triple crown in 1988 … finally breaking the Carmichael jinx in 1985 …
Just too many great moments to talk about them all.
And, I have to admit, I'm sure that Tar Heel fans have just as many terrific memories from their point of view.
That's what makes this series so glorious. Will there be another game for the list tonight?
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