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Coach K's top 5 all-time moments against North Carolina

Coach K enters Saturday with a 50-46 all-time record against North Carolina.
Coach K enters Saturday with a 50-46 all-time record against North Carolina.

Before February's matchup, we looked back at the top moments between head coach Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina at the Dean Dome. With likely the final chapter of the rivalry set to unfold Saturday, The Blue Zone counts down the top five all-time moments of the Krzyzewski era against Duke’s neighbors.

5. February 8, 2012: The Rivers ruiner

This may be one of the games Blue Devil fans remember most vividly in the long Duke-North Carolina rivalry. With just 5.8 seconds left on the clock and a gap of two points to close, Austin Rivers snaked his way around the top of the arc and let fly with 1.5 seconds remaining. The shot sailed unimpeded towards the basket and went in without a sound, save the cacophonous roar of the small Blue Devil contingent inside the stunned and silent Dean Dome that evening.

Rivers notched a ridiculous 29 points that night, supported by the 14-rebound monster that was Mason Plumlee and the 15-point apiece showings of Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly. It was a game of top-10 heavyweights with Duke ranked 10th and North Carolina fifth, both with deep postseason hopes, identical records and star-studded rosters. Though the game was typically testy and entertaining, fans were spared the ultimate spectacle until Rivers’ last-second heroics that firmly cemented him within Blue Devil folklore. This game, to this day, remains one of the most iconic shots in Tobacco Road history.

4. February 8, 2020: The double buzzer-beaters

Just over a month before the NCAA canceled the 2020 tournament, hoops fans across the nation were treated to a game that will live on forever in Tobacco Road folklore. Filled just shy of its 21,750-person maximum capacity, the Dean Dome saw unranked and struggling North Carolina, 10-13 at the time, up by 13 against No. 7 Duke with just over four minutes to play, buoyed by the deafening chorus of the Tar Heel faithful. Vernon Carey Jr. and Cassius Stanley, two freshmen who had each dropped upwards of 20 points on the night, had each fouled out, removing two huge playmakers and big men from a game that had seen the traditionally dominant Blue Devils handily pegged back.

Then, Tre Jones turned it up to 11. The sophomore was the fourth member of 2018’s all-star recruiting class that included Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish, but stayed for his second season, leading the team from the point guard spot with consistent performances and frequent moments of brilliance. This game was one such moment as Jones went takeover mode, notching 28 points. His highlight-reel intentionally-missed free throw put the ball back in his hands for the first buzzer beater of the night that sent the game to overtime. Duke then rallied from five down with 20.6 seconds left in the extra period to give the ball to Jones again, whose airballed three was famously caught by current captain Wendell Moore Jr. for the put-back winner as the clock hit zeros. College basketball at its absolute finest.

3. February 28, 1981: The first of 50

If for no other reason than its historical significance, Krzyzewski’s first victorious date with the Tar Heels must be included in a list of his top moments against them. Much like the Jones-show of 2020, senior Gene Banks hit a buzzer-beating jumper from just off the charity stripe to take the game past regulation. His six points in overtime contributed to a nail-biting 66-65 triumph at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Coach K’s Blue Devils may have gone just 17-13 on the season and ended their road at the NIT quarterfinals, but stamped their first win of an immensely successful era against a fantastic Tar Heel squad.

Headlined by legendary head coach Dean Smith, North Carolina reached the national title game in 1981 behind James Worthy, an eventual seven-time NBA All-Star and three-time NBA champion with the L.A. Lakers. Duke played David that fabled evening, however, spoiling the Tar Heels' party just as it would 49 other such times with Krzyzewski at the helm. It was the introduction of two great coaches to each other at college basketball’s most iconic venue and the genesis of an unmatched rivalry in the sport. Stage set.

2. February 5, 2004: The opening round

Because of his success at the helm of that school down the road, people often forget that Roy Williams was triumphant at Kansas for 15 seasons until his switch in 2003. In his stint with the Jayhawks, he coached the team to 14 consecutive NCAA tournaments, two national championship appearances and nine conference titles after 10 years at Smith’s side as an assistant coach in Chapel Hill. He and Krzyzewski had faced off a number of times in the years prior—including in the 1991 national championship game which Duke won—but this was different. Now, two hall of fame coaches with 800-plus wins would face off at least twice a year in college hoops’ most heated rivalry.

As it was for the rest of their time at opposing posts, this game was neck-and-neck throughout. It took overtime to separate the two star-studded rosters, featuring the likes of Rashad McCants and Raymond Felton on Williams’ team and J.J. Redick and Luol Deng on Krzyzewski’s, but when the torrent finally calmed it was the No. 1 Blue Devils left standing by the skin of their teeth. A Chris Duhon reverse layup sealed the deal, but the Tar Heels—who would go on to win the national title the season after—gave Duke a run for its money. This was the Frazier vs. Ali of college basketball, and it was box office.

1. February 28, 1998: The perfect moment

What else could it be?

This game had everything. A Roshown McLeod game-winner with 3.8 seconds left? Check. Four, count it, four opportunities from the line for North Carolina to win it? Check. Cameron Crazies storming the court? Check.

To top it all off, senior night of 1998 was Krzyzewski’s opportunity to get his 500th head coaching win against Duke’s biggest rivals at home, supported by a lovably insane and packed student section. It was the No. 1 Blue Devils vs. the No. 3 Tar Heels, a chance to avenge a 24-point thumping in Chapel Hill earlier that season and the last home hurrah for senior Steve Wojciechowski.

The beloved point guard possesses the single best moment with Krzyzewski in his entire career at the helm of the rivalry, emerging from a chaotic last 9.5 seconds that took six minutes of real time to sprint towards his coach for a passionate leaping hug as the Crazies stormed the court.

The stage, the game, the scoreline, the record, the emotion. The perfect moment.


Andrew Long | Blue Zone editor

Andrew Long is a Trinity sophomore and Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.

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