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Duke men's basketball preparing to take on rival North Carolina, send off seniors

Justin Robinson is among three Blue Devil seniors that will play in their last game in Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday.
Justin Robinson is among three Blue Devil seniors that will play in their last game in Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday.

For 100 years, the Duke-North Carolina rivalry has produced countless iconic moments. In the teams’ first 2020 meeting, the Blue Devils forged a memory that Duke fans will never forget: miraculous buzzer-beaters from Tre Jones and Wendell Moore Jr. to cap an iconic 98-96 win. 

When No. 12 Duke welcomes North Carolina to Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday at 6 p.m., the Blue Devils will try to make some more history, but the question remains: will the Blue Devils require another miracle to down a Tar Heel team in the midst of one of its worst seasons in recent memory?

“Well, I've been very fortunate for 40 years to be a part of this rivalry and actually [North Carolina head coach Roy Williams] and I have talked a lot about it, how lucky we are because whatever great memories I have, he's had great memories, too,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said at Friday’s media availability. “Because that's how close the rivalry is.

“It's such a game that's watched, so people remember plays and then these guys over the years have come up with so many great plays. Our win there was a crazy one [this year], so you're going to remember that because it's not just a shot, it was a sequence of events that really are caused by Tre Jones. The game always measures up, or goes beyond [expectations]. And I expect the same tomorrow, hopefully it measures that way for us.”

Though North Carolina (13-17, 6-13 in the ACC) has found a home at the bottom of the ACC standings this year, the Tar Heels are currently riding their longest winning streak since November. Duke (14-6, 14-5) is all too familiar with what North Carolina is capable of on a good day, as the Tar Heels outplayed the Blue Devils for much of the Feb. 8 installment of the Tobacco Road rivalry.

Saturday’s contest will also serve as the Senior Day for a trio of Blue Devil veteran captains: Javin DeLaurier, Justin Robinson and Jack White. White and DeLaurier are true seniors that have been inseparable over their four years at Duke, while Robinson is a graduate student in his fifth year on the team.

“[DeLaurier and White have] been great guys and obviously they've contributed at different times to some big wins for us,” Krzyzewski said. “I think this year was more important for them to be mature leaders off the court to make sure that there wasn't this differential between seniors and freshmen. Our freshmen are younger than the freshmen that we've had the last few years, and we haven't had as many seniors. So, it was really important for them to get along and they do. On the court, especially in practice, to be able to give their guidance, to talk to them and help them in drills, encouraging them and what they do before, during and after practice, they've been really great big brothers to our young guys.”

“I haven’t really thought about [it being his last game in Cameron] yet,” Robinson said. “I’m really excited right now because the home Carolina game is always my favorite. Just going into it, the atmosphere in Cameron is really electric. The fans are amazing. Right now, I’m just super excited to get to tomorrow night, to get to that game. But then maybe after is when I’m going to start feeling a little bit of that sadness.”

After the North Carolina game, civilian Duke students will head off campus to unwind, but for the Blue Devils, they will enter their most important stretch of the season. Duke will get an extended break before participating in the ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C., starting next Thursday. After that, the Blue Devils will learn their NCAA tournament fate March 15 on Selection Sunday.

“Next week, it's spring break, so we have a little bit more time and maybe they can catch up on some of their academics during that time going into the NCAA tournament,” Krzyzewski said. “But our our thing right now is looking at, obviously this game tomorrow is huge and the ACC tournament, we always want to do well in that, but at the end of the day, we got to be fresh in about 10 days, [for the NCAA tournament].”


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