Approximately 9,314 Duke fans left Cameron Indoor Stadium feeling nothing but shock—Duke had just lost its final home game of the year to none other than North Carolina.
And it was the last time Mike Krzyzewski would be on the sidelines as head coach.
The Blue Devils dropped their contest Saturday 94-81 against the Tar Heels, giving Hubert Davis his first win as a head coach in the series. The game was a true classic, but North Carolina’s timely 3-point shooting and guard play proved to be too much for Duke.
"It has been emotional. Before the game you're thinking, you get a little teary-eyed and then you say, 'Wow, I can't do that,' and so then you go on the court and then you feel it," Krzyzewski said. "Actually, when all the players were there it was just like 'Wow.' It wasn't as emotional as it was great...."
"If you're crying because of joy—pretty lucky person."
All game long, it was haymaker after haymaker from both sides. Brady Manek fired away from deep, but so did Trevor Keels. Armando Bacot bullied his way to paint buckets, but Mark Williams made sure to respond with some of his own.
The Tar Heels’ knockout punch came with just over a minute remaining in the contest. Sophomore guard Caleb Love missed a three but Leaky Black grabbed two offensive rebounds and flipped the layup in to make it 84-76.
"When you say not hungry—it's tough to stay at that level when you've already eaten well," Krzyzewski said about the team's hunger. "We just won the regular [season], we had a big meal. And then you got to [go to] the next meal and we weren't ready for that."
Freshman forward Paolo Banchero paced Duke (26-5, 16-4 in the ACC) in the game with 23 points and Mark Williams had a big 16-point double-double, but it was not enough.
With six minutes remaining, North Carolina (23-8, 15-5) led 70-67 and both coaches got a chance to talk to their teams at the timeout. Sophomore guard RJ Davis took charge for North Carolina with four huge points out of the break to go along with his crucial 21-point night.
Minutes later, North Carolina took a timeout with 2:57 remaining, and Manek drained a three immediately upon resumption. Duke looked like it was going to make a run after junior wing Wendell Moore Jr. stole the ball, but some tight defense from the Tar Heels forced an AJ Griffin miss on the layup. To go along with the solid North Carolina defense at the end, sophomore guard Caleb Love worked his way to a 22-point night on a 12-of-12 mark from the charity stripe.
"I take every player I guard on offense the same. He's no special than any other player I've guarded this season," Moore said of the different challenge of guarding Love. "So for me, it's just really going into it, staying locked in."
The back-and-forth pace wasn't just reserved for the end of the game though.
North Carolina struck first out of the half, but Williams responded with a tip-in basket on the other end. Banchero picked up right where he left off too, and between his field goals and Williams’ commanding paint presence Duke extended its lead out to seven to start the second period.
Just as the Tar Heels cut the lead to five with a Bacot dunk, sophomore guard Jeremy Roach checked in just under the 15-minute mark and drove to the hoop for a layup the first time he touched the ball in the period.
Although it might be the least flashiest line in the box score, big man Theo John was huge for Duke. His block at the beginning of the game kickstarted the sluggish Blue Devil offense and he rejected a vicious Manek dunk attempt at the 12:32 mark of the second half to reenergize the crowd.
The Tar Heels crawled their way back in right after the John block though. Love knocked down a jumper and finished a layup, and Bacot made one of his two free throws to cut Duke’s lead to two.
After the under-12 media timeout, Duke turned the ball over on the inbound and North Carolina had the ball in transition. Love went up for a runner that would have tied the game, but Griffin stuffed his shot to cause the crowd to erupt.
The Blue Devils had all the momentum with 10 minutes to go in the first half, and in addition to Banchero providing a spark, Roach came through in a big way off the bench. He finished the game with 15 points, no bucket being bigger than the double-clutch layup he had after the first media timeout to ignite a 10-4 run.
Despite Duke improving its play after that first timeout of the game, North Carolina wouldn’t go away. The biggest lead the Blue Devils had in the first half was nine points and they didn’t keep it for long.
The Blue Devils got that lead by spinning off a 12-0 run that AJ Griffin capped off with a corner three at the 4:20 mark to make it 35-28. Manek and Davis nailed back-to-back threes to end the half though, and heading into the locker room Duke had its work cut out for it with just a 41-39 lead.
After the game, Krzyzewski spoke about how thankful he was for his family, all his former players in attendance, the Cameron Crazies and the Krzyzewski scholarship that University president Vincent Price announced in the postgame ceremony the University held in Cameron.
But he is also ready to get back to basketball, and his first opportunity will be in Brooklyn, N.Y., for the ACC tournament at 12 p.m. Thursday.
"I'm glad this is over," Krzyzewski said of all the special ceremonies of this weekend. "Let's just coach and see what the hell happens in the tournaments. This is kind of like a surreal few days and a big part of it I think occurred because we had already won [the ACC regular-season title] so in some respects you don't feel the pressure of 'We have to win that game.'"
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Jake Piazza is a Trinity senior and was sports editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.