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Looking Back: 1970, Bucky Waters’ First Season At Duke, Part III

The transition from the Bubas era to Bucky Waters started well but ended badly

North Carolina State v Duke
During the Bucky Waters era, the Cameron Crazies didn’t care for the head coach and made their unhappiness clear
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Duke ended the regular season by hosting North Carolina. This was not one of Dean Smith’s better teams. Senior Charlie Scott averaged 27 points per game and made all the All-America teams. But his key supporting players were sophomores and made enough sophomore mistakes to drop the Tar Heels to 19th by the time they played Duke for a second time, on the final day of February. They would allow 90 or more points seven times that season, including a 104-95 loss to Georgia Tech in Charlotte.

Still, it was North Carolina and Duke Indoor Stadium was rocking.

Even by Duke-Carolina standards, it was an unusual Saturday afternoon. The sound of whistles punctuated the air with regularity; the officials would call 59 fouls, 32 on Duke.

But the Blue Devils maximized their chances from the line. Duke hit 23 of 24 from the foul line in just the first half. That included 21 in a row. Eddie Fogler scored North Carolina’s last first-half field goal with over seven minutes remaining. Duke closed the half on a 19-4 run and took a 47-33 lead into halftime.

Carolina scored the first eight points of the second half but Duke responded with a 6-0 run. A Scott tip-in made it 57-53, with 12:25 left but Carolina never got any closer.

The final was 91-83.

Denton played most of the second half with four fouls and managed the difficult feat of staying on the floor while maintaining his effectiveness. He ended with 26 points and 15 rebounds. He hit 12 of 17 from the field.

But the unsung heroes were Evans, Kuhlmeier and Posen who took turns guarding Scott and held him to 17 points. Evans added 17 points for Duke.

Blackman again came up big for Duke. He scored 14 points and hit all 10 of his foul shots. Saunders added a double-double, 13 points and 10 rebounds. Kuhlmeier had a career-high 10 points in his final home game.

Maybe Duke’s defense was great or maybe Carolina was ice cold or maybe it was a combination of both. But the Tar Heels hit 34 percent from the field. Fogler was 2 for 10 from the field, Steve Previs 1 for 13.

Duke hit 62 percent from the field and ended 35 of 44 from the line. Only Duke’s 25 turnovers and the outstanding play of North Carolina sophomore Dennis Wuycik—22 points, 12 rebounds—kept the game close.

Wuycik was one year behind DeVenzio at Ambridge High School and was one of Smith’s biggest recruiting wins over Bubas.

South Carolina ended the regular season at 14-0. North Carolina and North Carolina State were 9-5, Duke 8-6. Only some really bad luck was going to keep South Carolina from cutting down the nets in Charlotte. But Duke ended the regular season having defeated three nationally-ranked teams in an 11-day span. If anyone was poised to take advantage of any South Carolina slippage, it was Duke.

As it turned out, South Carolina did have that really bad luck. Roche suffered a severely sprained ankle in their semifinal win over Wake Forest. Roche gamely gave it a go in the title game against State but was only a shade of his usual self. He made 4 of 17 from the field and State won 42-39 in two overtimes.

Duke was long gone by then. Duke opened the tournament against Wake Forest, 6-8 in the ACC. Duke had already defeated Wake three times that season, one a non-conference win. But Duke’s margins of victory were eight points, six points (in overtime) and two points. The teams were more closely matched than it may have seemed at the time.

Duke fell behind 6-0 but turned it around and led 28-20. Saunders was having the best game of his career and Denton was solid.

But Duke was badly outplayed on the perimeter. Wake Forest put together a 17-2 run to close the half with a 37-30 advantage.

Dickie Walker keyed Wake’s first-half run. Duke actually held star Wake guard Charlie Davis to two points in the first half.

But Davis dominated the second half, with 23 points. The closest Duke got in the second half was 43-41 on a Saunders layup.

Duke kept fouling Davis and Davis kept making foul shots. He ended up 11 of 12 from the line and the Deacons ended with an 81-73 win.

Saunders hit 12 of 15 from the field on the way to a 29-point night. Denton scored 16. Saunders and Denton each had a dozen rebounds. But Katherman was 2 for 11 from the field, DeVenzio 2 for 10.

Davis ended with 25 points for the Deacons. Walker added 21. Gil McGregor, Wake’s 6-7, 245-pound center held his own inside, with 17 points and nine rebounds. Wake only used six players but had enough to hold off every comeback attempt by Duke.

In stark contrast to Duke’s season-ending win over North Carolina, Duke lost this one from the line. Duke hit 11 of 16 from the line. Wake Forest hit 25 of 32.

Duke got an NIT bid. Since only one team per conference could go to the NCAAs in those days, the NIT was pretty competitive. The 1970 field included Pete Maravich and LSU, Scott and North Carolina, and such perennial powers as Cincinnati, Louisville and St. John’s. In fact Marquette was actually invited to the NCAAs that year but turned it down for the NIT because Al McGuire didn’t like his NCAA placement.

Duke opened with Utah. And closed with Utah.

Duke led 9-0 early, 38-31 at the half and 69-68 with five minutes left. But Duke faded down the stretch and fell 78-75.

Denton had one of the best games of his career, 35 points, 16 rebounds, 16 of 23 from the field. But again he just didn’t get much help. Katherman was Duke’s only other double-figure scorer and he had only 11 points. Every Duke player other than Denton combined to hit 16 of 43 from the field.

Utah, meanwhile had four players in double figures, led by Walt Hawkins with 18 and 17 from future NBA star Mike Newlin.

Marquette destroyed Maravich and LSU in the semifinals and handled local favorites St. John’s in the title game.

Full disclosure. This was my sophomore year at Duke. At the time it seemed like a bit of good news/bad news season. After that great start, after that late-season surge, a 17-9 finish with no post-season wins was a letdown. Still, three wins over nationally-ranked teams had to have been a harbinger of better days to come.

Especially since Duke did it without a single non-senior averaging more than Kuhlmeier’s 4.3 points per game.

But Blackman transferred to Rhode Island, where he became a good but not great player.

Evans decided to scratch that football itch. He gave up the hardcourt for the gridiron. He became a wide receiver.

Still, four returning starters were joined by a quartet of sophomores from an undefeated freshman team. Duke was ranked 13th in the preseason, the highest Duke ranking of the 1970s until the latter part of the 1978 season. And Duke did win 20 games, the program’s most wins over a nine-year span.

Then Denton, Saunders, DeVenzio and Katherman graduated and the whole thing started to unravel.

But it sure seemed promising at the time.