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Coach K's Sweet 16: Coach K wins his 500th game

Coach K and his squad came back against North Carolina in 1998 to earn his 500th win.
Coach K and his squad came back against North Carolina in 1998 to earn his 500th win.

This article is the sixth of 16 in our "Coach K's Sweet 16" series, where we will walk back through the legendary head coach's career and recap his most iconic moments. For the full list, click here.

It was a fairytale ending.

Not the kind with a royal wedding and a happily-ever-after, but the kind that every sports fan dreams of: the comeback. And for Coach K's 500th win. 

The top-ranked Blue Devils were hosting No. 3 North Carolina in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke entered the game 26-2, with one of those losses being a brutal 97-73 defeat by North Carolina in their first meeting of the season. Senior forward Roshown McLeod was leading the way, averaging 15.3 points a game. Junior guard Trajan Langdon was also a driving force on the team, but it was the freshman who took charge and brought down the Tar Heels. 

Duke was down 42-30 at halftime. It looked like history would repeat itself, like the Blue Devils just couldn’t keep up with their rivals. As time ticked away, the deficit grew to 17 points with just over 11:30 left. Then Duke flipped the switch.

Freshman Elton Brand, the 6-foot-8 center, missed a large chunk of the season, including the first meeting with North Carolina, with a broken foot. After missing out on the first matchup, Brand was eager to make his presence known. He scored 13 points in the second half, helping to provide the spark that the Blue Devils needed. 

They say defense wins championships, and Duke took that to heart in the last 11 minutes. The Blue Devils only allowed 11 points, blocking passing lanes and forcing turnovers to keep themselves in the game. Sophomore forward Chris Carrawell scored the equalizer with just over two minutes on the clock after a bad Tar Heel pass that went straight into McLeod’s chest. The senior got it done on both ends of the court, driving to the basket and downing the go-ahead shot on the next play to put the Blue Devils up for good. 

North Carolina had an opportunity to climb back into the game when guard Ed Cota stepped onto the foul line, but he missed his first shot so was forced to miss his second. Tar Heel freshman center Brendan Haywood was fouled as he grabbed the rebound, but also missed his first shot–and intentionally his second. The ball was batted around for just enough time after the miss, and just like that, the Blue Devils had come back and won. There was no more fitting way for Coach K to notch his 500th win than against his rival in the most dramatic fashion. 

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