Sometimes, it's the little things that make a difference in a basketball game. Things like it being Senior Day. Or the fact that the two teams have possibly the greatest rivalry in college hoops. Or even 9,314 excited fans screaming at the top of their lungs as the other teams try to shoot free throws.
Saturday afternoon, these little things combined to give the men's basketball team its biggest win of the year. While it's certainly important to credit the strong play of Steve Wojciechowski and Elton Brand, the scoring of Roshown McLeod, the key free throws and jump shot of Will Avery and all the efforts of the Duke players on the court, it's also necessary to remember everything happening off the court.
Due credit was indeed given by those who appreciated it most-the players.
"We have the greatest fans in the country," Avery said. "They really had our backs today. They were probably what made [Ed Cota and Brendan Haywood] miss those free throws."
Less credit, predictably, was given by North Carolina coach Bill Guthridge.
"I didn't even talk about [the Cameron Crazies]," Guthridge said. "Our guys have been around. They've seen it before."
Most of the Tar Heels were familiar with Cameron Indoor Stadium, which UNC fans often call "The Asylum," or less complimentary, "The Outhouse." With over a year since their last trip there, however, they might not have been prepared for the sheer numbers of signs and jeers aimed in their direction.
As vital as they were, the Crazies were only a part of that broad factor known as "intangibles." Another critical aspect was that of the seniors' emotion in their final home game. They each went to the center of the court before the game and received tributes from the students; thanks for their four years of hard work. People cheered for Todd Singleton, who walked on the team four years ago and had since earned a scholarship. They cheered for Ricky Price, who became a little nostalgic.
"I went out there and different memories went through my mind," Price said. "This game was unbelievable."
McLeod, who has been with Duke for only two years on the court, chose to share his salute with an important fan. After he was announced, McLeod returned to the bench to retrieve his son and bring him to center court.
"[The feeling] is hard to put into words," McLeod said. "I had my son here. The emotions of the crowd and the love that they showed and the acceptance that they showed-I mean, I transferred here."
Perhaps the most emotional was Wojciechowski. The point guard who is listed in the media guide as being from Severna Park, Md., changed his hometown on Saturday. As announced to the crowd, Wojciechowski now hails from Durham, N.C. As he ran onto the court, he pumped his fist and pointed back to the crowd with tears in his eyes for his final home game.
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"I think we have nine more games left," said Wojciechowski, referring to the conference and NCAA tournaments, "so I don't know if it's over yet. It's over here [in Cameron], but it's been a great ride and this is the exclamation point."
Coach Mike Krzyzewski stressed the importance of this win, and this season, to his seniors.
"The win was pretty good," Krzyzewski said, smiling at the understatement. "For me, for the seniors-when they're freshmen, they're 13-18. To be 15-1 in the conference, it speaks volumes for the kids' leadership."
That 15-1 Atlantic Coast Conference record was another motivator in and of itself. Since Florida State joined the Atlantic Coast Conference league in 1991, no ACC team had won 15 games in a season. Krzyzewski reasoned that this accomplishment should help the Blue Devils secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
"I think winning the league by two games... I think we've earned it," Krzyzewski said. "Certainly Carolina's got to be a No. 1 seed, but we've proved it over the long haul."
The one motivator no one really talked about was that this was Krzyzewski's 500th win. The benchmark seemed almost tossed to the side, given all else that was happening. For Krzyzewski, though, it had to be a memorable No. 500.
"This is a great day for us," Krzyzewski said. "I'm very, very happy."