CHAPEL HILL—Eight years ago, Austin Rivers etched his name in the Duke-North Carolina history books with a game-winner as time expired. Saturday, Tre Jones and Wendell Moore Jr. took their place right alongside him.
Trailing by three with four seconds left in regulation, Jones stepped to the free throw line. The sophomore captain calmly made the first, then purposefully bricked the second. The ball kicked out to Matthew Hurt on the perimeter, who passed the ball to Jones.
Jones patiently dribbled forward, fought through ferocious defense from Cole Anthony to get a mid-range jumper off with less than half a second on the clock. The arena fell silent as the ball went through the net, forcing overtime.
“With Duke being my dream school since I can remember, I'm always watching these rivalry games,” Jones said. “Seeing Austin Rivers hit a shot here when I was at one of my basketball tournaments, going crazy, watching my brother do what he did against Carolina. I just wanted to put my name in the game like that. And I feel like I might have done that tonight.”
“He made—not a good play—that was an amazing play. That’s one of those clinic videos,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski added. “We won because of that kid.”
Trailing by five with 20 seconds remaining in overtime, Duke staged another dramatic comeback. Jones converted a lay-up after a foul, but the rebound was tipped out of bounds off North Carolina. Moore would score on the ensuing possession to cut the deficit to one. The Tar Heels botched the inbound pass to set up an opportunity for the Blue Devils to go for the win with 10.7 ticks on the clock.
Jones promptly drove to the dish and got to the line. Swish, tie game. The Apple Valley, Minn., native missed the second, but would get another chance on the offensive rebound. Jones missed the midrange pull-up, but Moore was right there to lay it in for the game-winner as time expired. The Blue Devils escaped the Dean E. Smith Center with a 98-96 victory.
“I missed that and Wendell pursued it,” Jones said. “They got that big guy down low and he was able to go up and tip it out. Jordan Goldwire pursued the ball as it was going out of bounds and saved it to me. I put up a look and Wendell again went after it, something that he was doing all game and he was able to get that huge putback.”
Jones led his team with 28 points, while Tar Heel freshman phenom Cole Anthony fed off the energy of the crowd and led North Carolina with 24 points of his own.
With a 13-point advantage and four minutes remaining in regulation, North Carolina fans flocked to the exits confident in a Tar Heel win. But the Blue Devils went to work on a comeback for the ages.
Triples by Joey Baker and Alex O’Connell along with missed free throws at the other end gave Duke the opportunity to cut the lead down to 81-79 with 40 seconds remaining.
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Trailing by two with 15 seconds left, Jones and Jordan Goldwire forced a steal as Duke had an opportunity to tie. Cassius Stanley got the ball under the basket and pump-faked, but the Tar Heel defense swatted it away. Andrew Platek would go 1-for-2 at the line for North Carolina to set up Jones’ classic moment.
“I didn't think it was gonna take that, but like I said I knew what it’d take. Almost dead in the water there in regulation and overtime,” Jones said. “Everyone on the team had the same look in their eyes, same look on their face. The coaches had the same thing going as well. We all believed in each other. We all believed every second of the game that we were going to come out with a win.”
Anyone who watched the two teams for the first time would be stunned to learn the Tar Heels entered the contest with losses in 11 of their last 15 games. North Carolina overwhelmed Duke (20-3, 10-2 in the ACC) with exquisite ball movement, domination on the interior and near-perfect accuracy from the midrange for the first 35 minutes of the contest.
The Tar Heels (10-13, 3-9) feasted off open attempts from the midrange en route to an astonishing 59.4 percent first-half conversion rate and a nine-point halftime lead. The Blue Devil defense was not better for much of the second half. North Carolina shot 52.2 percent compared to Duke’s 42.5 percent from the field overall.
The Blue Devils opted for size in the starting lineup with the insertions of Moore and Jack White in order to counter Tar Heel big men Armando Bacot and Garrison Brooks. Regardless, Duke got mauled on the glass as North Carolina dominated the battle on the boards 51-42.
“This game has no record. Both teams 0-0, you have to treat it like that. I know they're struggling record-wise, but they’re as talented as almost any team that we're going to see out there,” Jones said about his message to his freshman teammates. “That's an extremely good team, extremely talented and they're coached by one of the greatest. The atmosphere is crazy, one of the best places to play on the road. There's really not a lot you can say besides that because once you're in it, you just realize how much different it is.”
The Blue Devils will have a chance to climb their way up the ACC standings Monday, as they are set for another tough test in No. 8 Florida State in Cameron Indoor Stadium.