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Jim On Duke’s 1985 Win Over UNC In Chapel Hill

One of the most important wins over UNC in Duke history

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Duke v Syracuse
Now an ESPN personality, Jay Bilas was a key part of rebuilding Duke basketball under Mike Krzyzewski
Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

With the summer doldrums upon us, I’m going to get creative and take a look at some Duke history, great games, great teams, great players. I’ll make no attempt to rank anything, just take some trips on the Wayback Machine.

I’m going to start with a Duke-Carolina men’s game. This isn’t one that you see on ESPN Classic but in the context, Duke’s 1985 visit to Chapel Hill was one of the most satisfying games in the long rivalry.

What was the context?

Duke defeated North Carolina three times in 1966, including a famous 21-20 win in the ACC Tournament. Duke won the game in Chapel Hill 88-77.

No surprise. Vic Bubas always said that the 1966 team was his best. They went 26-4 that year, North Carolina 16-11.

But Dean Smith’s program surpassed Bubas’ the following season, after which the Tar Heels owned the rivalry at Carmichael Auditorium for a generation.

Some of Carolina’s wins were close; 75-72 in 1968, 79-74 in 1971, that infamous 1974 game. Even Bill Foster’s great 1978 team couldn’t pull it off, falling 87-83 on Phil Ford’s Senior Day 34-point performance.

Many more were blow-outs. Bubas’ last team lost 94-70 in 1969. Bill Foster’s last Duke team lost 96-71 in 1980 and that team had Mike Gminski, Gene Banks, Kenny Dennard and Vince Taylor. Mike Krzyzewski’s first three Duke teams lost at Chapel Hill by margins of 15, 18 and 21 points.

Duke almost broke the streak in 1984 against Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins, Brad Daugherty et. al, leading by two with seconds left. But Dan Meagher missed the first end of a one-and-one, Matt Doherty tied it at the buzzer and Carolina won in double-overtime, making Smith 8-1 against Krzyzewski.

But a week later, the rivalry became a rivalry again, when Duke’s young Blue Devils stunned the top-ranked Tar Heels in the ACC Tournament.

With the construction of the Dean E. Smith Center, Duke had one final chance of ending its losing streak at Carmichael, which reached 18 years with that 1984 loss.

The Tar Heels had lost Jordan, Perkins and Daugherty but still had a star-studded lineup that included Daugherty, Kenny Smith, Steve Hale and Joe Wolf.

Duke countered with a junior-heavy lineup of Johnny Dawkins, Mark Alarie, David Henderson and Jay Bilas, buttressed with sophomore Tommy Amaker and senior Meagher.

Duke went into Carmichael on January 19 with a record of 12-2, ranked second nationally but coming off consecutive losses to Maryland and Wake Forest, both in overtime.

Dawkins was an All-American in 1985 but he was coming off perhaps the worst game of his career, a 4-14 shooting performance against the Deacs in which Muggsy Bogues pushed him all over Cameron. His eight-point performance was the only single-digit scoring performance in his Duke career.

North Carolina was ranked sixth, also with a record of 12-2 and coming off a big win over NC State, overcoming a 15-point deficit.

Both of North Carolina losses were non-conference meaning they already had a two-game lead over Duke in ACC play.

I spoke with Jay Bilas years ago about this game.

“Coach K didn’t talk about the history at all. It wouldn’t have meant anything to us anyway. When you’re 19 years old, you tend to think nothing happened before you.”

Carolina was bigger, Duke was quicker.

Duke used that quickness to jump to a nine-point lead early, Carolina used its size to pull even at at the half, 39-39.

Duke led 51-49, with 15 minutes left, when they began to get some separation.

Henderson turned a steal into a Dawkins layup, Alarie converted a three-point play inside, Bilas scored on a follow-up.

Duke led 67-53. The shot clock was 45 seconds in 1985 and there was no three-point shot. Carolina was forced to foul and Duke seized the opportunity. The Blue Devils hit 19-of-23 over the final eight minutes, padding the margin.

The final score was 93-77, Duke’s biggest margin of victory over North Carolina since a 104-69 shellacking in 1964.

It also was the first time Duke had won consecutive games in the rivalry since 1966.

Dawkins shrugged off his Wake game in a big way. He hit 12-of-22 from the field, 10-of-12 from the line, for 34 points, following up his career low with his career high. He played all 40 minutes and added eight rebounds, four assists, four steals, with no turnovers.

Alarie added 19 points, Bilas 17 points and 11 rebounds--against Brad Daugherty no less-- Henderson 10 points and four steals, Meagher 10 rebounds. Duke outrebounded the much-bigger Heels 42-30, shooting a so-so 43.3 percent from the field but 35-for-46 from line the line.

Meagher was a senior on that team and the win meant a lot to him.

“I remember going to Chapel Hill early in my career when guys like Worthy and Perkins pushed us around like we weren’t there. Now we were men. We could compete against anybody.”

After losing in 1986 and 1987 Duke won its first game at the Smith Center in 1988 and followed with wins in 1989 and 1991. Winning at Chapel Hill hasn’t been easy since then. But that 1985 win moved it into the realm of the possible.

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