Revenge is a dish best served cold. And the Tar Heels of North Carolina got more than a full helping on Wednesday night in Chapel Hill.
Heel Week concluded with a rivalry game even Brad Gilbert would call ‘ugly’. As expected, Carolina brought their best effort of the season, and as expected, the ‘good guys’ emerged from the Dean Dome victorious.
But the lowest scoring Duke-Carolina game in seven years wasn’t just another game. This was North Carolina. As much as Coach K and the players refused to let on before the game, this game meant a lot, for both sides. For UNC, it was a chance to revive their season. For Duke, it was an opportunity for sweet, sweet revenge.
Basketball, like every sport, is as much a mental game as it is physical. And it’s safe to say that for the past four years, UNC has just had Duke’s number. In the past nine meetings between the two teams, North Carolina had won seven – including three straight. Meanwhile, Duke’s last trip to the Final Four was in 2004. Since then, North Carolina has managed to make several trips to the promised land, winning the title twice in five years. And if Carolina’s success didn’t motivate Duke enough, Ole Roy certainly did when he literally stole Prince Harry from K in November of last year.
But that’s what makes the latest installment in the rivalry that much more enjoyable. With two of the individuals responsible for the aforementioned Carolina successes – Hansbrough and Barnes – looking on from behind the visitor’s bench, Duke took one giant step towards restoring balance to the greatest rivalry in sports with a victory.
Don’t get me wrong. A win over North Carolina this year does not mean that this team is destined for a Final Four run. Coach K has said it himself: this team is very good, but is definitely limited. The fact that Duke has reached 20 wins (for the 26th time in his tenure) this season is a testament to K himself.
But Wednesday’s game had to mean a lot to this Duke team. Before this season, Jon Scheyer, Lance Thomas, Nolan Smith, and Kyle Singler had beaten Carolina once in their careers. And with one of the most hated players ever to wear Carolina blue and Heel destined to join him in that distinguished category, this win at the Dean Dome had to be special for Coach K.
While Deputy Dog has just about lost his mind trying to get through to his team, K’s Duke team played exactly as he preaches – poised and patient on the offensive end, strong and aggressive on the defensive end. His team showed resolve, staying focused and poised in the most hostile environment Duke will face all year. The gritty, defensive, and total team effort was all Coach could have hoped for. It was also, as Duke alum Seth Davis put it, the stake through the heart of Carolina’s “season from hell”.
Obviously, the most important part of the season still remains. But emotional wins can do wonders for the coaches, the players, and even the fans. I know I’ll never forget that rush of pure, unadulterated joy that came as my fellow Crazies erupted in Cameron in the waning seconds of the game.
You can be sure that those same Crazies will bring it when the Terrapins come to visit tomorrow. They know that a win over a tough Maryland squad will be delectable icing on Coach K’s 63rd birthday cake.
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Crazie Talk Exclusive:
We were on scene as the Devils returned from Chapel Hill on Wednesday night. Enjoy.