CHAPEL HILL—The score may have stayed low, but tensions were high in this year’s edition of the Duke-North Carolina manager game.
Maintaining a time-honored tradition, Duke men’s basketball managers traveled to the Dean E. Smith Center to take on their counterparts from North Carolina. A highly-contested second half saw the two teams trade 3-pointers until time expired, leaving the Blue Devils with the 38-33 loss—but they don’t have to worry about breaking the news to head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
“He’ll figure it out. He knows everything. He already knows,” Duke managers coach Mike Sotsky said. “I don’t know who told him, but he does. But I think he’ll be proud of us, anyway.”
Before the first media timeout, both teams’ offensive efforts suggested they stick to managing. With the score still tied at 2-2 10 minutes into the game, the Tar Heels knocked down their first of many jumpers from behind the arc. A handful of North Carolina fans rallied around an early 17-8 lead as Duke was still adapting to the competition.
“I think partly we’re just used to Wojo and Capel and Scheyer just hitting threes in our faces, so we assume they’re going to make it,” senior Scott Lamson said. “It’s tough to adjust to people who may not make it and realize you actually have to try to get through the screen.”
The first half of play came to a contentious close when a North Carolina manager grabbed a rebound and Duke freshman Drew Goldstein made a play for the ball. In creating space, the Tar Heel swung his elbows, knocking Goldstein to the floor. Play resumed shortly after the teams converged for a tense moment accompanied by some pushing and shoving, and the Blue Devils closed in to bring the score 20-15 at the half.
Watch video of the scuffle between the Duke and North Carolina mangers:
“[The freshmen] all played well, they’re probably some of the hardest players that we have,” Lamson said. “They fight really hard, and they just love playing. It’s a good group all around.”
Duke managed to take a brief 28-27 lead nine minutes into the second half behind a long 3-pointer from junior Sean Kelly. The Tar Heels responded with three triples of their own to reclaim the lead 36-30. With just over a minute to play, the Blue Devils were forced to foul, resulting in the first actual free throws of the competition.
For the second straight year, the game ended with Duke hitting a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. Unlike last year's game-winner from Graham Vehovec, Kelly's triple at the buzzer was not enough to put the Blue Devil managers on top.
When all the excitement had died down, both teams turned their attention to the real competition. In less than 24 hours, both team's managers will return to the sidelines for Duke and North Carolina to do battle in the 237th installment of the Tobacco Road rivalry.
“This is bigger than the managers,” Sotsky said. “This is about tomorrow’s game, but it’s nice that we’re able to play a small role in it and do this every year and keep this tradition alive.”
The Blue Devil managers will have a shot at revenge against the Tar Heels when Duke's managers host the second half of the home-and-home series March 7 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.