Ever since becoming a Duke fan at the age of nine, time and time again I have been amazed at how close the match-ups between the Blue Devils and North Carolina Tar Heels have been.
The collective consistency of excellence between the two is unmatched, and the numbers don’t lie.
UNC has a record 20 Final Four appearances and has won six NCAA championships (1957, 1982, 1993, 2005, 2009 and 2017) while Duke has made 16 Final Four appearances and has won five NCAA championships (1991, 1992, 2001, 2010 and 2015).
Heading into Saturday night’s game in Chapel Hill at the Dean E. Smith Center, also known as the Dean Dome, the teams had split the last 100 games with both teams scoring 7,746 points.
How is that even possible?
In 2017, I attended the ACC tournament in Brooklyn and was able to witness my first Duke/Carolina game.
The Blue Devils won the semifinal match-up between the schools as well as the tournament, but I realized that night just how special, and heated, the rivalry was.
Saturday night, I witnessed firsthand a rivalry that is much different than anything I have experienced in person as a sports fan.
I flew down in the morning to catch the game in Chapel Hill with a couple of friends who live and breathe Carolina hoops in Slayton Evans and Dan Greenberg.
Slayton grew up in Chapel Hill as his dad was a professor there and Dan resides in Raleigh.
Before I met up with them for an early dinner, I made my way to Durham to visit Duke.
While on campus, I made a stop at Cameron Indoor Stadium as going there never gets old.
It isn’t a church, but many consider it Holy Ground.
After spending about three hours on campus, I made the nine or 10-mile drive south on U.S. 15/501 from Cameron to the Dean Dome.
The closer I got to Chapel Hill, the more excited I became as the realization was settling in that I was about to see Duke and UNC play in person again.
After dinner, Evans, Greenberg and I made our way to the Dean Dome and once we entered, the buzz inside seemed to grow by the minute.
As the clock neared 0:00 for pregame introductions, the crowd became more frenzied.
The booing for Duke’s introduction was off the charts as I couldn’t even make out what the public address announcer was saying!
Even though UNC is having a down year and entered the game at 10-12 while Duke entered at 19-3, I knew the game would be close.
The crowd grew louder and louder as UNC grabbed control and seemed to be en route to a win.
However, with this rivalry, something crazy is bound to happen, and something did.
The Tar Heels led 77-64 when Duke’s best player, Vernon Carey Jr. fouled out with 4:16 to go in regulation.
Duke outscored UNC 20-7 and the game was sent to overtime when Tre Jones hit a jumper at the buzzer after an improbable sequence.
After Duke opened a five-point lead with 3:59 to play in overtime, UNC countered and led 96-91 with 0:21 left.
The crowd was so loud that my ears were still ringing Sunday morning.
This was the first sporting event that this has happened to me other than White Out games at Penn State.
However, Duke scored seven points in the final 21 seconds and won on an offensive rebound put back by Wendell Moore Jr.
Two buzzer beaters in one game? How does that happen?
And to boot, it happened eight years to the day of Duke beating UNC on a buzzer beater on the same floor.
The deafening roars heard throughout the Dean Dome moments before turned into a mostly stunned silence.
Surrounded by UNC fans that were cordial all game long, I stayed reserved out of respect to them while my inner nine-year old self was ecstatic.
As the crowd filtered out, I looked around to see Duke fans still celebrating.
After the game, Evans and Greenberg both shared their thoughts.
“While fans do share some animosity, there’s a level of respect both schools have for each other,” said Evans, who has now seen 24 games between the rivals in person. “The fan bases see each other all the time, and when you throw in the buzzer beaters, you have yourself just another tussle between the Heels and Devils!”
Greenberg said the Heels played well, but mistakes like missing 17 free throws hurt them.
“The Heels put together by far their best 40 minutes of effort (of the season),” he said. “Unfortunately, the game went 45 minutes and untimely mistakes cost them.”
Before leaving, I took a moment to comprehend what I just witnessed.
When the games are consistently played at the level they showed Saturday, it is easy to see why experts say this rivalry is the greatest in sports.
When Duke and Carolina play, throw the records out because it is about much more than that.
Saturday night, I learned this firsthand and I want more of it.
Rice rolling for Grove City
Grove City junior Justice Rice has been on a tear, and he is helping his team make a historic run.
The Wolverines have won 10 games in a row, their longest winning streak in 29 years.
Grove City is 14-7 overall and 11-2 in Presidents’ Athletic Conference play, and Rice’s performance is a big reason why.
Rice, who helped lead Monessen to a pair of WPIAL titles, is averaging 13.7 points per game, which is good for second on the team.
He leads the Wolverines in assists per game (3.0), is third in rebounds (4.9), second in steals (1.5) and second in blocks (1.0).
A two-year captain, who has started all but one of his 76 games at Grove City, has 747 career points heading into the Wolverines’ non-conference home game against Penn State Altoona Wednesday.
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