In the 45th minute, Chris Duhon punctuated another epic chapter in college basketball's greatest rivalry. The senior point guard dribbled the ball the length of the court, catching the North Carolina defense off guard, and dropped in an acrobatic reverse layup.
"Our kids played with great heart, and of course Duhon's play there at the end will go down as one of the great plays ever," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
With the Blue Devils' 83-81 overtime victory over the Tar Heels (13-6, 3-5 in the ACC) Thursday night at the Dean Smith Center, Duke (19-1, 8-0) has now beaten its arch rival five of the last six times the two teams have played in Chapel Hill and 13 of the last 15 times overall. The Blue Devils have now won 16 consecutive contests and finish the first half of an ultra-competitive ACC schedule 8-0, including five victories on the road.
In overtime, with the Blue Devils leading by a point, both teams sputtered offensively. Raymond Felton could not muster any offense for the Tar Heels as his layup attempt sailed over the rim resulting in a shot clock violation.
On the ensuing Duke possession, with 22 seconds remaining, Duhon fed J.J. Redick on the inbounds play and Redick was immediately fouled by David Noel--a decision head coach Roy Williams regretted Noel made, considering Redick's near-automatic free throw shooting. Redick sunk both attempts and it looked like the Tar Heels may have finally been put to bed after a chaotic night in the Dean Dome.
However, as was the case when North Carolina trailed by three points in regulation, the Tar Heels responded. Rashad McCants--scoring the last of his game-high 27 points--pump-faked a pair of Duke defenders and nailed a three-pointer from the top of the key.
"Kids don't make those shots, men do," Krzyzewski said in reference to the three by McCants and an earlier one drilled by Jawad Williams to send the game into overtime. "Men make those shots. Men were making shots for both teams towards the end of the game and especially in overtime."
Shelden Williams set the tone for overtime as he did throughout the game for the Blue Devils. Williams blocked Sean May layup attempts on two of the Tar Heels' first three possessions in the extra session. "I told Shelden after the game, 'Your post defense was best when most people will have played their worst--the end of the game,'" Krzyzewski said.
In regulation, the Blue Devils took a three-point lead when Redick drove into the lane and nailed a short attempt as he fell away from the basket. Williams brought the crowd of 21,750 to a feverous pitch when he leveled the score with a three-pointer from the top of the key. Unlike in overtime, Duke was unable to regain the lead as Ewing's game-winning attempt from the outside failed to reach the rim.
The teams battled hard throughout the second half as the Tar Heels quickly closed a five-point Duke halftime advantage. The game remained close until North Carolina went on an 8-0 run. Krzyzewski called a timeout after a Felton three-pointer increased the Tar Heel lead to five. Duke was unable to score and McCants came back down the floor with a dunk.
"That was the pivotal point in the game," Krzyzewski said. "That [North Carolina] score coming out of the timeout, I just think a lot of teams would have gotten run out of here. To our kids' credit we came out and we executed."
For the majority of the Tar Heels' run, Duhon and Deng remained on the bench--Duhon picked up his fourth foul at the 9:10 mark and Deng was momentarily knocked unconscious when he was struck in the head trying to defend an outlet pass.
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The Blue Devils immediately regained control as Deng scored six of 10 consecutive points for the Blue Devils to set up the dash for the finish.
"All of a sudden we had the lead, a one point lead, which I think was shocking considering it was 69-62," Krzyzewski said. "That is when I thought our team played the major major manly minutes."
Ewing was the catalyst for the Blue Devils early in the second half as the team struggled to generate offense in the halfcourt set. The junior--who guarded Felton for much of the contest and held the North Carolina point guard to 11 points--made a trio of shots from behind the arch to lift the Blue Devils at critical moments when the Tar Heels appeared to be on the verge of game-changing runs.
"I was just trying to win the game, trying to make big plays for our team," Ewing said. "At the time we were kind of struggling. Fortunately, I was able to come off and make some big threes and take shots that the coaches like me to take and I was able to hit them."
Even though the game-tying and game-winning scores came either from the outside or from dribble penetration by guards, the major battle throughout the game occurred inside. Williams and May fought throughout the game for position on the inside. May was dominating on the glass for the Tar Heels, pulling down 21 rebounds, eight of which were on the offensive end.
The North Carolina big man was stricken by cramps near the end of the game as Roy Williams rotated him in and out of the game.
"Man it hurts," May said, expressing both physical and emotional pain. "I've never felt this bad after a game in my life. At the end I wanted to be out there so bad, but I caught cramps all night. I just felt like this team battled, we played the best team in the country."
Duhon, besides hitting the game-winning shot, kept the Blue Devils steady and focused despite the raucous crowd and relentless Tar Heel pace.
"It's something he has shown all year," Krzyzewski said. "You don't always see it on the play that he does, but it is something he says to someone or whatever. That is the kind of leadership he has shown all year."
After the game, both coaches were extremely proud of their respective players. Talking about his team and the game even brought tears to Roy Williams' eyes. Thursday night's game marked the return of Williams to the Tobacco Road rivalry after he left his alma mater to be the head coach at Kansas for 15 seasons.
The Duke-North Carolina rivalry that Williams returned to has been characterized by not only fantastic finishes, but also an unmatched energy that resonates from the efforts of the participants and the fans that fill the seats--tonight was no different.