DURHAM, NC – Playing the ultimate villain, North Carolina surprised arch-rival Duke in the most controversial game of Tobacco Road competition.
The Tar Heels upset the Blue Devils 94-81 Saturday at Cameron Indoor on a day they dominated Miss Mike Krzyzewski as he coached the last home game of his 42-season career.
Instead of triumphantly crowning the best coach in men’s college basketball history, it was a case of storming the court for the brave and determined UNC team that was in the NCAA Championship bubble entering today.
Krzyzewski was disappointed when he returned to court for a party to celebrate his career.
“I’m sorry this afternoon,” he said. “Today was unacceptable.” “But the season was very tolerable. The season is not over.”
North Carolina played the all-night aggressor and showed great vigor late in the second half by breaking away from the Blue Devils who were in line for the previous NCAA No. 1 seed. It was a much different scene than it was a month ago when Duke jumped to a 20-point lead in the first half to clear Tar Heel off early.
“They played better than us,” Krzyzewski told reporters after the match. They played 40 strong minutes against us. They are a really good team… In the second half, our defense was awful.
The Blue Devils (26-5, 16-4 ACC) started sluggish – lagging behind through key booms late in the second half and were unable to take their lead. With Duke still in control, Tar Heels (23-8, 15-5 ACC) took a critical 68-63 lead with 7:37 remaining, calming the crowd. That shifted momentum in favor of North Carolina, then hit heels even harder by building a double-digit cushion late in the game – an advance they won’t compromise.
It was an overall holiday night for this young duke’s team, and it’s unclear how much that was due to the emotion and pressure from the big occasion. A lot of that was about playing Tar Heels with a purpose, perhaps the best basketball of the season.
“I was worried about some things getting into the match,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s kind of a celebration for me, which I don’t like. We’ve been living in a penthouse for the last few days. With room service and everyone saying nice things. We didn’t play hungry today. I understand how this could have happened. Carolina could have helped us by not being Good. Our ship was going to sink today no matter what.”
The big man in command of the globe Armando Bacot was the primary enforcer, finishing the match with 23 points. Four Tar Heels scored over 20 points, with Caleb Love (22), RJ Davis (21) and Brady Manek (20) all scoring big shots all night. Rookie Paulo Banchero, who started early, led the Blue Devils with 23 points in a loss but hit 11 for 26 from the ground.
“Just frustrated,” Panchero told reporters afterward. “We wanted to win for Coach K.”
At one point in the first half, a moving Krzyzewski was seen throwing a referee at what he thought was a missed call. Krzyzewski tracked down the referee in the first half to express his frustration. That was a head-itching night before the boisterous crowd finally calmed down.
Before the game, a powerful spectacle of 96 former Duke players – including all-time greats Christian Latner, Grant Hill, JJ Redick and Elton Brand – were in attendance to honor the 75-year-old, who did his best to contain the rich emotion associated with With a legacy that includes five national titles as the best coach in the history of the sport. Krzyzewski was noticeably crying during the national anthem but maintained his composure.
Duke’s loss seriously hurts his chances of winning the top seed at March Madness. The ACC was weaker this year – ranking sixth in the NET rankings – as Duke and the expected ninth seed locked Notre Dame to go dancing. But the Blue Devils’ resume, which includes wins over Kentucky and Gonzaga, is good enough for the No. 2 seed.
Meanwhile, North Carolina is a bubbly team that got exactly the first quarter (top 25 home, top 75 road) it needed in its NCAA tournament profile. Now the Tar Heels are in a much better position to hear his name on Selection Sunday heading to the ACC Championship where winning can only improve his profile even further.
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