North Carolina topped Duke 81-77 to close out the career of Duke coach Mike Krzyzewsky at the Final Four in New Orleans on Saturday.
For many years, ABC opened with the “Thrill of victory and the agony of defeat!” So goes the North Carolina-Duke basketball rivalry! One month ago, Duke embarrassed North Carolina with a 20-point win in Chapel Hill. Today UNC returned the favor and delivered a win that will forever live in the minds of Duke loyalists and be celebrated by those that pull for the Tarheels.
North Carolina showed the poise and grit that has been building over the season and intensified after the loss to Duke, going 7-1 and winning five in a row to close the regular season.
UNC showed improved play in every aspect of the game from its first meeting with Duke. Statistically, the game was mostly even, but North Carolina had a stronger second half and played with more poise with only five turnovers for the game. Brady Manek with 20 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists and RJ Davis with 21 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assist, played every minute of the game. Armando Bacot played through first-half foul trouble to finish with 23 points on 10-11 shooting, 7 steals, and 2 blocked shots, likely locking up conference player of the year honors. Caleb Love delivered another strong second half and finished with 22 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists and went 12-12 from the free throw line. Leaky Black chipped in with 6 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists while delivering another strong defensive performance that should strengthen the conversation for his consideration for defensive player of the year honors.
AJ Griffin was held to 2-5 shooting and only scored 5 points, after torching UNC for 27 points in the first meeting. Paolo Banchero needed 26 shots to score 23 points, but only managed to score 8 points in the second half. Four turnovers neutralized Banchero’s 5 assists. Mark Williams finished with 16 points on 8-11 shooting and 13 rebounds while Jeremy Roach was 5-6 from the floor and 4-4 from the line for 15 points. Trevor Keels delivered 12 points and 3 rebounds.
UNC finishes the regular season at 23-8 (15-5) in conference play. Duke falls to 26-5 (16-4). Both teams have a double bye in the conference tournament and will play on Thursday with no chance of meeting again unless both make the conference final on Saturday.
Hubert Davis has tried to make this season about his players but has already secured a memorable place among coaches in the North Carolina-Duke rivalry. “Instant classic” is overused, but how else can we rate this game? The best rivalry in college sports continues to grow and will live in the minds of both teams forever. Until they meet again, UNC will remember the thrill of this victory. Duke will be haunted by the agony of the defeat.