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Seniors' last stand

Duke’s trio of seniors—Brian Zoubek, Jon Scheyer and Lance Thomas plays its final game at Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday against rival North Carolina. The last time the Blue Devils beat the Tar Heels at home, none of these three seniors had begun their careers in Durham.
Duke’s trio of seniors—Brian Zoubek, Jon Scheyer and Lance Thomas plays its final game at Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday against rival North Carolina. The last time the Blue Devils beat the Tar Heels at home, none of these three seniors had begun their careers in Durham.

Seniors Jon Scheyer, Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek are no strangers to success in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Over the past three seasons, the Blue Devils are 47-2 at home.  In Cameron, they have won 15 games this year by double figures and have defeated 12 of their last 16 opponents by 20 points more.

But there is one goal the seniors have yet to accomplish on their home court: beat North Carolina. Saturday night at 9 p.m., the trio will have its final chance to do so.

“We have got to get a win on Saturday,” Thomas said. “That’s basically it.  We’ve got to make sure we’re ready to go.”

Senior Night will mark the last game for the three seniors in Cameron, where Duke is 15-0 with a scoring margin of 26.6 points per game this year. The Blue Devils hope to extend their home court dominance through Saturday night against the Tar Heels.

“Senior Night is obviously a big night for all of us,” Zoubek said. “We’re focused on ending the conference season with a win and gaining some momentum going into the ACC Tournament.”

The last Duke win in Cameron between the Tobacco Road foes was a 71-70 contest in 2005 led by National Player of the Year J.J. Redick. Since then, the Blue Devils have lost four consecutive matchups at home, including a disappointing 101-87 loss in 2009 at the hands of North Carolina dynamic duo Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson, who combined for 42 points on the night.

Indeed, the Blue Devils have seen their fair share of setbacks in Cameron against the Tar Heels. And while Zoubek hasn’t spoken directly with Scheyer and Thomas about the impending contest, he acknowledged the unspoken gravity of winning tomorrow night’s game, both for the rivalry and for his fellow seniors.

“We recognize it’s going to be a big night for a lot of reasons,” Zoubek said. “The most important thing is to get that win and play well while we go at it.”

For the senior center, Saturday night’s matchup represents the culmination of a unique historywith North Carolina. Freshman year, he made a rare start against the Tar Heels in place of Josh McRoberts—a vote of confidence from head coach Mike Krzyzewski. In his first three seasons, Zoubek hardly ever started and averaged only 4.1 points per game, but he covered Hansbrough with determination in that 2007 contest.

However, Zoubek enters tomorrow’s game at a completely different place in his Duke career. Ignited by his career-high 16 points and 17 rebounds against Maryland three weeks ago, Zoubek has since established himself as a significant asset to the team. He has tried to seize every opportunity to excel in the games remaining in his time as a Blue Devil.

 “For me, the important thing is to keep being consistent,” Zoubek said. “I have to try to build every day and establish my role every chance I get.”

But Duke fans can’t help but feel the absence of one player who won’t be playing in his Senior Night game: Gerald Henderson. At the end of his junior season, Henderson entered the NBA draft and was selected with the 12th overall pick in the first round by the Charlotte Bobcats. While he is still content with his decision to leave the Blue Devils, Henderson acknowledged some sentimental feelings toward not suiting up against North Carolina tomorrow.

“I’m happy for [the seniors],” Henderson told The Chronicle. “They’ve put their four years in and had great careers. I’m sure Saturday will be an emotional day for them, Senior Night. Myself, looking back, that’s definitely something I will miss doing. To have a Senior Night and to go out with those guys would have been a great thing.”

In Henderson’s absence, Scheyer has remained a constant leader for Duke throughout the season. A strong contender for ACC Player of the Year, Scheyer averages 18.8 points per game and has successfully directed the Duke offense from the point, a position he transitioned to in the latter part of his career. And as the leading scorer with 24 points in the Blue Devils’ 64-54 victory against North Carolina last month, Scheyer knows what spearheading a win against Duke’s archrival feels like—just not at home.

Sending the Tar Heels back down 15-501 with their heads down while the Blue Devils leave Cameron with pride is a moment none of the seniors have ever experienced—and one they would never forget.

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