The independent news organization of Duke University

Underappreciated moments in Duke Men’s Basketball History: Robert Brickey saves the day against North Carolina

<p>Head coach Mike Krzyzewski proved his Blue Devils were ready to compete with the best in a huge victory over the Tar Heels in 1988, made possible by a game-saving block by former Duke star Robert Brickey.</p>

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski proved his Blue Devils were ready to compete with the best in a huge victory over the Tar Heels in 1988, made possible by a game-saving block by former Duke star Robert Brickey.

The Shot, Austin Rivers’ buzzer beater, the Miracle Minute. There are plenty of jaw dropping moments in Blue Devil history that will never be forgotten, but they don’t tell the whole story of Duke basketball. Shane Smith of the Blue Zone takes a dive into some of the under-appreciated moments that the average Cameron Crazie may not know about, starting with Robert Brickey’s game saving block against North Carolina in 1988: 

Long before Zion Williamson and Marvin Bagley III soared for alley oops in Cameron Indoor Stadium, one of the first high flyers of the Coach K era was Robert Brickey. 

The 6-foot-5 forward was known for his elite athleticism and was a double-digit scorer on three teams that made it to the Final Four. Brickey became a reliable player off the bench in his freshman year and then went on to start in 80 games over the remainder of his career. 

In his sophomore season, a Duke team led by him, Danny Ferry and Kevin Strickland travelled to Chapel Hill Jan. 21, 1988 to face off with North Carolina in their first meeting of the season. The Blue Devils were the No. 9 team in the country and were 10-2 on the year but were still the underdogs against their archrivals ranked second in the national polls. 

Despite Mike Krzyzewski starting to show that he could compete with legendary Tar Heels head coach Dean Smith, North Carolina still dominated the Tobacco Road Rivalry, and Duke had won just three games in the series since 1982. The Blue Devils announced their presence with a championship game appearance in 1986 and had to keep winning to show that they could join the upper echelon of elite college basketball programs. 

Going late into the game, it was setting up to be a classic finish that fans from both sides of the rivalry have grown to love and hate. Tied at 69 with just over a minute to play, Ferry found a soft spot in the Tar Heel zone and fired off a look from three. The ball ricocheted off the rim and landed in the hands of Brickey, who skied above everyone else in the paint to secure the offensive rebound. After two unsuccessful putback attempts, Ferry grabbed the ball in the paint and was fouled. 

Ferry, who would go on to become the No. 2 pick in the 1989 NBA Draft, drilled the first foul shot but missed the second. Duke would get a much-needed stop on the following North Carolina possession, but the team wasn’t out of the woods just yet. 

Phil Henderson would get fouled but miss the front end of a one-and-one, and after Ferry grabbed it for another huge offensive rebound, the Blue Devils would turn it over on the following inbounds play. 

Eventually, the Tar Heels would inbound underneath their own basket with five seconds to play. Everyone expected star big man J.R. Reid to get the ball for North Carolina on the final shot, who had 27 points and 12 rebounds on the night. The Hall of Fame coach Smith had other ideas however, and drew up a play for Jeff Lebo, a sharpshooter that knocked down 46.4 percent of his threes in the 1988 season. 

Lebo inbounded the ball to the top of the three-point arc and hopped right back inbounds to the corner while all five Blue Devil defenders looked at the ball. Pete Chilcutt fired a pass back to Lebo for what looked like an open, game winning shot. Brickey had other plans. 

The sophomore quickly recovered to the corner with a controlled closeout and as Lebo fired the shot, got just enough of the ball to have it fall into the waiting arms of teammate Phil Henderson. Duke wins 70-69. 

That night marked the Blue Devils’ first win in the recently opened Dean E. Smith Center and just the second victory over the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill over the previous 22 years. Duke would win all three games against UNC in 1988, including in the ACC Tournament Final, and later that year would start an incredible run of five Final Fours in six years. 

Brickey finished with just four points and two rebounds on the night but won the game for the Blue Devils with gritty, hustle plays in crunch time, something Krzyzewski was able to channel to ultimately start the Duke dynasty.