The Duke-UNC rivalry has always been intense but there have been some exceptional peaks of that intensity. The Heyman vs. UNC era was crazy, the Laettner-Montross era of course, and the Tyler Hansbrough era was also quite dramatic, not least of all because of the time Psycho T’s fan got in the way of Gerald Henderson’s elbow.
But other than than Art Heyman’s conflict with Frank McGuire’s UNC teams, it’s hard to think of a period that was more dramatic and more intense than the mid 1980’s when Duke had Danny Ferry, Robert Brickey and Billy King, and UNC countered with JR Reid, Scott Williams and Steve Bucknall.
And in 1988, an ascendant Duke had basically caught up to UNC and was on the verge of surpassing the Tar Heels.
This did not go over well in Chapel Hill, least of all with Reid.
Reid came to UNC as a coveted recruit, a guy who was supposed to become one of the all-time greats in at least the ACC and probably beyond.
He never quite lived up to that, but he was an immensely powerful big man and quite a load to deal with inside.
In 1988, Duke first won in Chapel Hill, 70-69. UNC wanted payback in Cameron on Duke’s Senior Day for Billy King and Kevin Strickland.
Didn’t happen. Duke won relatively easy, 96-81, and then won the following week’s ACC Tournament championship game, 65-61.
As much as anything, those three games showed that Duke had achieved parity with UNC, something that, given the stranglehold Smith had on the conference, not least of all psychologically, most fans thought couldn’t happen.
If you look at this season as sort of UNC’s last stand in that sense, all three games are even more dramatic because Duke took that away.