Duke Outlasts North Carolina in Another Classic

With North Carolina leading 79-70 with 2:30 left in the second half, and all the momentum in their corner, it was easy to look at the ACC conference standings and start analyzing. North Carolina and Duke were both going to be 9-4, tied for 3rd place, with a March 7th rematch in Chapel Hill looming.

Then “The Rivalry” took over.

Duke Outlasts North Carolina in Another Classic

Duke scored four quick points in the ensuing minute, courtesy of two offensive rebounds in which North Carolina had two players fighting over both times. Now only down five with 1:26 left, Cameron Indoor Stadium was going absolutely bonkers. You could feel the electricity of the rivalry from your living room couch. It was equally sensational to watch the famous “Cameron Crazies,” well, go crazy.

Fast forward to the :39 second mark. After a couple made free throws by the Tar Heels, and some impressively clutch shots by Duke’s Tyus Jones, North Carolina led 81-79 with a reliable Brice Johnson going to the free throw line. He already made a couple free throws just seven seconds earlier.

As expected, Johnson would miss the front end of the one-and-one. Suddenly, Duke had a chance for the tie, or even the win.

Tyus Jones decided to go for the tie, with a wide open lane being opened up by Justise Winslow, and yes, he was blatantly holding North Carolina’s J.P. Tokoto. Even NFL officials would have called that hold. Nonetheless, Duke would tie the game up, North Carolina would miss a jumper at the end of regulation, and the game would go to overtime. Jones had scored the final nine points for Duke in regulation.

Just as momentum shifted in the last two minutes of regulation for Duke, momentum shifted back to North Carolina for the first few minutes in overtime. After a Tokoto made jumper, the Tar Heels led 87-84, which felt like an enormous lead at this point in the game.

Jones answered in a big way, though. He came down and made a jump shot, then stole the ball, and passed it up to Quinn Cook for two points. Duke found themselves leading the game when it could have easily gotten out of hand. The teams would trade baskets in the next couple of minutes. After a made free throw from Cook, Duke led 92-89, and with three seconds left, the Blue Devils fouled Nate Britt. Britt made the first, and missed the second on purpose. North Carolina’s Marcus Paige had a chance to put back the attempt, but to no avail.

When the clock hit 0:00 at Cameron, everyone that had watched the game knew one thing: it was an instant classic in arguably the greatest rivalry in sports.

That would have gone down as the game of the season, no matter who was playing the game; that’s how good the actual game was. The aurora, the feeling, the electricity when those two programs face off is just nothing like anything else in sports, and certainly college basketball. It felt like the price for admission was worth it, even if you paid zero extra dollars sitting in your living room, with the volume on low trying to not wake up the rest of your family.

The game had everything. A fast pace, a couple of comebacks in each half, a star player injury, a dramatic comeback, legendary history, legendary coaches, a legendary arena (yes that’s three in a row), and an amazing ending to the game.

Was the game better than 1974’s classic Eight Points in Seventeen Seconds match-up, the heated 1989 battle, or either game in 2005? Probably not, but it doesn’t have to be. That is the beauty of a rivalry like Duke-North Carolina. No matter how exciting past games might have been, we find ourselves coming back for more because we understand how insanely impressive and satisfying these games can be.

In all honesty, a statement game like the one last night was somewhat needed for the rivalry. While there have certainly been great games in the past few years, there have also been a few too many blowouts. This obviously has not diminished the rivalry between the two schools, locations being a mere eight miles away from each other will do that, but a game like this was due.

If you did miss the game last night, clear your plans for March 7th. You’re not going to want to miss it twice. 

Game Notes:

  • Tyus Jones made all the late plays for Duke, but Quinn Cook was the player of the game for the Blue Devils. Cook shut down North Carolina’s leading scorer Marcus Paige for much of the game and hit six threes.
  • Duke’s moment of silence for the late Dean Smith was incredibly classy, but I expected nothing less. That might have been the best moment in the game.
  • I was hoping North Carolina head coach Roy Williams would have played Joel James a little more. The big man only got 12 minutes, but when he was in there, he made some nice moves on the block.
  • Nate Britt is shooting 86% on his free throws this season, but went 3-6 last night. You tell me the pressure was not real.
  • Quinn Cook, Tyus Jones, and Jahlil Okafor all played over 40 minutes for Duke.
  • North Carolina was doubling Okafor to begin the game, and that pretty much led to Duke’s big lead when he would pass to a wide open Blue Devil out of the double team. It’s hard to blame Williams for not doubling at the end of the game.
  • North Carolina finished 2-10 from the three point line, and that might have been the difference in the game.

All statistics via statsheet.com


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