'The rivalry’s still there': Duke men's basketball buries the past, wins latest battle in endless war against North Carolina

Jeremy Roach surges past North Carolina's RJ Davis to put Duke up by four points with 23 seconds to play.
Jeremy Roach surges past North Carolina's RJ Davis to put Duke up by four points with 23 seconds to play.

History always repeats itself, until it doesn’t. 

Two days short of 16 years prior to Saturday, freshman point guard Jon Scheyer was, for the first time, the fresh face with something to prove in one of sports’ greatest rivalries, and he proved it. On an underdog Duke team, the then-19-year-old put up 26 points—more than Tyler Hansbrough, more than his captain DeMarcus Nelson, more than anybody on the court—as the Blue Devils charged toward what might have been their first victory against North Carolina in more than a year. 

They lost by six. What should have been a triumphant new entry into the saga of Duke-North Carolina withered away, as the Blue Devils squandered a 10-point second-half lead on their home court. 

"We don't have time to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves," Scheyer said after that game in February 2007. He didn’t mean it this way—another rival, Maryland, awaited Duke four days later—but in a sense, he predicted how fast life would take him from that moment, to its mirror image all these years later. 

After rivalry wins and national championships, having earned the title “head coach-in-waiting”, associate head coach Scheyer was on the sidelines when North Carolina came to town March 5, 2022. In Mike Krzyzewski’s final battle in Cameron Indoor Stadium, history repeated itself. 

In a game that ended in one of the most brutal defeats in the rivalry’s history, Duke had, at one point, led by seven in the second half. Current captain Jeremy Roach was a sophomore then, but he came off the bench to score 15 points alongside star turns from Paolo Banchero and Mark Williams. North Carolina won by 13. A month later, it downed the Blue Devils again in the Final Four. 

“This is personal business for us,” Roach said after Saturday’s game, a 63-57 Duke win at Cameron Indoor. “Definitely a little bit personal for me after what happened last year.” 

On Saturday night, it seemed history wanted another go at the Blue Devils. They jumped out to a six-point lead early in the second half, controlling the game better than any Duke fan could have hoped coming in. It did not matter that the Tar Heels had fallen far from their preseason No. 1 billing; they had handed Duke its two highest-stakes losses under a year before, so they were Goliath. But North Carolina clawed its way back, and from the 13:13 mark until the final 23 seconds, neither team could wrestle away a two-possession lead. 

To take that late two-possession lead, head coach Scheyer, in his first rivalry outing at the helm, drew up a play. It was simple—a screen play with Roach and freshman phenom Kyle Filipowski—but it was effective. Both Tar Heel defenders were drawn to Filipowski, leaving a wide-open runway to the basket for Roach. With a desperate edge softened by experience, the junior drove right up the middle, laying in the ball, almost gently, to put Duke up 61-57. 

“We knew [Armando] Bacot was staying with the lob, and they kind of weren't talking on the switches,” Roach said. “They both went to [Filipowski], and I had an easy layup.” 

In the final seconds, Duke diligently fouled the Tar Heels, having played a clean game before to keep the visitors out of the bonus. North Carolina graduate forward Pete Nance finally got a shot off, but it hit the rim, and with nine seconds to play, Roach was fouled. He hit both free throws. 

“Jeremy's missed a few one-and-ones in some clutch moments … [But] we worked on that in practice. We got a horn and a fake crowd playing for him in practice, and some of the other guys trying to get in his head,” Filipowski said of what he told Roach before the free throws. “I was like, ‘Hey, this is what we worked on in practice,’ and he gives me a smile and is like, ‘Damn right.’”

Nine seconds later, Duke had won by six points, and Roach had led all players with 20 points. The cheers were so loud that they hardly registered as sound, but more like energy piercing directly through your skull. They were of recognition as much as they were of excitement: recognition that, in defeating history, Roach had gotten his revenge for 2022 and Scheyer, as head coach, had finally gotten the rivalry debut he deserved as a freshman back in 2007. 

Except, you can’t defeat history. For 11 players on Duke’s roster, there was no history to avenge, only history to make.

Freshman center Dereck Lively II, a consensus five-star recruit who has struggled with injury and inconsistency, set the Tobacco Road rivalry’s single-game blocks record with eight, while also setting career highs in rebounds (14) and minutes (34)—all while matched up against the ACC’s most prolific rebounder since Tim Duncan. Filipowski, instrumental in the game’s most crucial play, bounced back from a slow start to help the Blue Devils cling to a 33-32 lead going into the break. When no one else seemed to be able to, Australian rookie Tyrese Proctor made a bucket or a play, tying North Carolina’s RJ Davis for the game-lead in assists with five. 

“We didn’t want to focus on last year. There's two, three returning guys from last year, so we wanted to flush that out the window, just go to clean slate,” Roach said. “We didn’t try to overhype this game or nothing like that. We just took it as a regular game.”

That’s what happened. None of the newcomers’ performances had anything to do with the past. For Scheyer himself, no one will define him by what he did as a player or an associate, only what he did as head coach: win. This is because, even as the rivalry shackles you to the burdens of the past by virtue of the name on your jersey, it promises that you can only win the battle and never the war.  

For this Duke team—11 first-year Blue Devils and four veterans led by a first-year head coach—that is a wonderful thing. Scheyer and the Blue Devils won this battle, but all that has earned them is the privilege to fight more and create their own chapter of history. History can be repeated, it can be foiled, it can be avenged, but it cannot be stopped from marching onward. Duke proved Saturday that it’s alright with that; it’s ready to run alongside it. 

“This is a new era. The rivalry’s still there; it’s always going to be there, no matter who the coach is, no matter who's playing,” Filipowski said. “This is our opportunity to leave a mark.”

Sasha Richie profile
Sasha Richie | Sports Managing Editor

Sasha Richie is a Trinity senior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


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