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A starting 5 of Duke men's basketball's most memorable individual performances vs. UNC

Nolan Smith's final home performance against North Carolina will forever live in Duke lore.
Nolan Smith's final home performance against North Carolina will forever live in Duke lore.

Since the first meeting between the two in 1920, Duke and North Carolina have given college basketball an exhaustive list of memorable moments. On the Blue Devils’ end, the tally of unforgettable individual performances goes on and on. That is why the task of creating a starting five made up of some of the most iconic performances by a Duke player in the rivalry's history is daunting. 

We tried our best, though, so without further ado, here is a starting lineup of the most memorable individual performances by a Blue Devil in Duke-North Carolina history. 

Guard: Nolan Smith, Feb. 9, 2011 (Cameron Indoor Stadium)

When Duke went into the halftime locker room trailing 43-29, things seemed dire for the defending national champions. Thanks to some rallying of the troops by head coach Mike Krzyzewski during the break and a little bit of Nolan Smith magic, however, the Blue Devils stormed back to stun the Tar Heels. Smith was utterly brilliant in the second half, scoring 22 of his career-high 34 points over the final 20 minutes—including an old-fashioned three-point play that blew the roof off Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke's win secured what was then its largest second-half comeback in 52 years. 

Guard: Johnny Dawkins, Jan. 19, 1985 (Carmichael Auditorium)

From 1967 through 1984, Duke failed to beat the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill. Once the vaunted 1982 recruiting class came into its own, though, the Blue Devils were ready to challenge North Carolina for state and ACC superiority. Led by Johnny Dawkins, who was on the floor for all 40 minutes, Duke snapped the 18-game Chapel Hill losing streak in a second-half blitzing at Carmichael Auditorium. Dawkins poured in 34 points and contributed eight rebounds, four assists and four steals to push the Blue Devils over the top.

Forward: Shane Battier, March 4, 2001 (Dean E. Smith Center)

This performance might be best remembered for Battier's incredible chase down block on North Carolina guard Joseph Forte, but the overall stat line of the Blue Devils’ do-everything standout was remarkable in its own right. Battier racked up 25 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks and four steals en route to the 95-81 win in Chapel Hill. The future No. 6 overall pick helped Duke secure a share of the ACC regular season title that day, and nearly a month later led the Blue Devils to the national championship.

Forward: Fred Lind, March 2, 1968 (Duke Indoor Stadium)

We’re going way down memory lane with this one. In what is still the only Duke-North Carolina game to go past a second overtime, a sparingly utilized, undersized forward proved to be the hero the Blue Devils needed. 

All-American center Mike Lewis dealt with foul trouble throughout the ballgame and his backup Warren Chapman was injured, prompting Duke head coach Vic Bubas to roll the dice and give Lind his big break. The decision paid off, as Lind rejected a potential Tar Heel game-winner at the end of regulation, drilled a jump shot to send the game into a third overtime and recorded another crucial block in that third extra session to set up the clinching bucket for the Blue Devils. Lind was carried off the court by ecstatic Duke fans after his 16-point, nine-rebound showing secured an 87-86 win against Dean Smith’s bunch. 

Center: Christian Laettner, March 8, 1992 (Cameron Indoor Stadium)

What, you thought I was going to leave out this guy? For all his antics and critics, Laettner had a knack for performing when the lights were brightest, and you’d be hard pressed to find a regular season college basketball game with more eyeballs watching than Duke-North Carolina. On Senior Night, the two-time national champion gave the Cameron Crazies exactly what they wanted, stuffing the stat sheet to the tune of 26 points, eight boards, three assists and three blocks. The 89-77 Blue Devil win was a fitting end to Laettner’s home career. 

Sixth Man: JJ Redick, Feb. 7, 2006 (Dean E. Smith Center)

To the ire of the North Carolina faithful, the leading scorer in Duke history finally had a signature performance in the rivalry after shooting only 34% overall in seven prior games against the Tar Heels. En route to being named the consensus National Player of the Year, Redick delivered in the Dean Dome with 35 points on 12-of-22 shooting from the field and 5-of-10 from deep. Of those five 3-pointers, the most crucial was undoubtedly a final-minute dagger that put Duke up seven, as the Blue Devils were then able to salt away an 87-83 victory. 

Editor's note: This article is one of many in The Chronicle and The Daily Tar Heel's annual rivalry edition. Find the rest here.

Max Rego profile
Max Rego

Max Rego is a Trinity senior and an associate sports editor for The Chronicle's 118th volume. He was previously sports managing editor for Volume 117.


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