Duke vs. UNC: Ranking the 10 All-Time Best Games Between the Tobacco Road Rivals

Chad LykinsFeatured ColumnistMarch 5, 2013

Duke vs. UNC: Ranking the 10 All-Time Best Games Between the Tobacco Road Rivals

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    They are separated by just eight miles. They don two different shades of blue. They are two of the most storied programs in college basketball. 

    They are Duke and North Carolina.

    Viewed by many as the greatest rivalry in all of sports, the 94-year history between Duke and North Carolina has produced countless memories while leaving each and every fan of the game of basketball yearning for more.

    This Saturday, both schools will meet for the 236th time in the rivalry's renowned history and the second time this season inside the Dean Smith Center, better known as the Dean Dome. 

    In the first meeting on February 13, Duke erased a slow start combined with a 10-point deficit near the end of the first half by going on a 10-2 run and overtaking the lead for good with 13 minutes left to play to pick up its sixth victory in the past eight meetings with North Carolina, 73-68.

    Although Duke has found a great deal of success since the 1997 season—25 wins in the past 39 contests—they still trail the all-time series against North Carolina, 132-103. 

    However, among the 235 meetings that have been decided, which 10 games would be considered above the rest as the best of all time?

    After a significant amount of deliberation, these are the top 10 games between Duke and North Carolina from their legendary rivalry. 

10. March 10, 1984: No. 16 Duke 77, No. 1 North Carolina 75

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    North Carolina defeated Duke twice during the 1984 regular season en route to going undefeated in conference play (14-0) and capturing the outright ACC regular-season title.

    While many will claim that their second meeting in Chapel Hill—a double-overtime victory for North Carolina—is more noteworthy, their ACC tournament semifinal clash added much more significance to the rivalry.

    Behind the efforts of its big three—Mark Alarie, Johnny Dawkins and Tommy Amaker—Duke held a 40-32 halftime advantage over top-ranked North Carolina.

    After trading baskets to begin the second half, North Carolina ripped off a 12-2 run, eventually tying the score at 44-44.  

    However, the Blue Devils controlled the remainder of the game behind an effective defensive performance, led by Alarie, that kept North Carolina's inside presence in check.

    With the game coming down to the final seconds, Duke guard David Henderson put the Blue Devils ahead for good with four late free-throws. 

    Despite the efforts from Michael Jordan, North Carolina's comeback bid ended with an errant inbounds pass from Matt Doherty with three seconds remaining, preserving the victory for the Blue Devils.

    This game proved to be the breakthrough victory for Mike Krzyzewski and his Duke program in regards to its rivalry with North Carolina, who had overwhelmed the Blue Devils during that time due to their stature and reputation.

9. February 8, 2012: No. 10 Duke 85, No. 5 North Carolina 84

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    In a finish befitting the rivalry, the first matchup between the two teams in 2012 was an instant classic. 

    North Carolina entered the season as an overwhelming favorite to win its sixth national championship in program history. 

    While good, Duke was a young team with a ton of questions revolving around who was going to be their go-to player. 

    On that night, we found out. 

    Duke relied on its three-point shooting early and often, attempting 12 shots from beyond the arc in the game's first 10 minutes of play. After the Blue Devils maintained the lead for the entirety of the first half, North Carolina staged a late 8-1 run to end the half with a 43-40 lead.

    From there on out, the Tar Heels were in control, eventually holding a 13-point lead at one point. 

    With 2:20 left to play and an 82-72 advantage, North Carolina seemed to have the game well in hand. 

    Then the unthinkable happened.

    Late three-point baskets from Tyler Thornton and Seth Curry trimmed the North Carolina lead down to four. After a late Harrison Barnes turnover, Ryan Kelly scored off of an offensive rebound to pull Duke within two.

    North Carolina senior Tyler Zeller was sent to the free-throw line on the following possession, converting just one of his two attempts, making it 83-80. 

    With just 14 seconds left, Kelly attempted the game-tying three but the shot fell well short; however, Zeller accidentally deflected the ball into the basket while trying to secure the rebound. The perplexed deflection was awarded only two points.

    83-82, North Carolina.

    Zeller was sent to the line once again, with the same results, converting one of two attempts. 

    84-82, North Carolina.

    Freshman Austin Rivers brought the ball up the court with a chance to tie or win the game for the Blue Devils. After catching Zeller on a defensive switch, the young freshman surveyed the scene, pulled up from behind the arc and swished through the buzzer-beating three to give Duke a memorable victory, 85-84. 

    Rivers ended the night with a career-high 29 points, a new Duke freshman scoring record, and a moment that will be remembered forever.

8. March 12, 1989: No. 9 North Carolina 77, No. 7 Duke 74

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    The season series was split, one victory apiece.

    So it was only fitting that the rubber match come in the 1989 ACC tournament championship.

    In a highly contested final, which saw an absurd 49 fouls called between the two teams, the Tar Heels led for much of the game, though they could never pull away from the Blue Devils and Naismith College Player of the Year finalist Danny Ferry. 

    Nonetheless, North Carolina's J.R. Reid led the way and even outplayed Ferry with 14 points and nine rebounds as the Tar Heels captured its first ACC tournament title in seven seasons, defeating Duke 77-74. 

    But this particular meeting was mostly remembered for the intense exchange between the two coaches, Mike Krzyzewski and Dean Smith. 

    After Coach Krzyzewski screamed at North Carolina forward Scott Williams in frustration over a hard foul, Coach Smith quickly emerged from his seat and notified Krzyzewski to refrain from talking to any of his players. 

    That prompted Krzyzewski to retaliate by sending Smith a simple two-word message consisting of the Anglo-Saxon monosyllable beginning with the letter "F," followed by the second-person pronoun.

7. February 5, 1992: No. 9 North Carolina 75, No. 1 Duke 73

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    In a game that consisted of blood and even broken bones, the 1992 matchup in Chapel Hill was as tough and gritty as the rivalry has ever experienced. 

    Over the last nine-and-a-half minutes to play, North Carolina was held without a field goal by a tenacious Duke defense. 

    However, they converted 12 of 14 shots from the charity stripe during that stretch, including two late free throws from center Eric Montross with elbow-enforced blood streaming down his face, leading to a narrow two-point lead, 75-73.

    With 24 seconds remaining, Duke's Naismith College Player of the Year Christian Laettner was unsuccessful in two attempts to tie the game as the final buzzer sounded.

    It was the Blue Devils' first loss of the season, and a game in which its star point guard Bobby Hurley suffered a broken foot but continued playing. 

    Duke, the eventual 1992 national champions, returned the favor by defeating North Carolina in the second meeting of the season at Cameron Indoor Stadium and once more in the ACC tournament championship.

6. March 2, 1974: No. 4 North Carolina 96, Duke 92 (OT)

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    To this day, many regard the 1974 meeting between Duke and North Carolina in Chapel Hill, or Eight Points in 17 Seconds, as the greatest comeback in college basketball history. 

    As Duke led 86-78 with 17 seconds left to play in regulation, North Carolina rallied, despite the fact that the game took place before the three-point shot had been implemented.

    A key reason why the comeback still garners immense fascination.

    North Carolina's sudden surge began with a pair of free throws from forward Bobby Jones. Following that came baskets from guard John Kuester and Jones to cut the lead to two, 86-84.

    Duke's Pete Kramer was sent to the line for a one-and-one; however, he missed his first attempt, allowing the Tar Heels the opportunity to force an extra period. 

    Out of a timeout, North Carolina freshman Walter Davis received the inbounds pass and heaved up a 30-foot shot (remember, no threes) that banked in as time expired to tie the game.

    The overtime period was controlled by North Carolina, who went on to secure the victory, 96-92.

5. February 4, 2004: No. 1 Duke 83, No. 17 North Carolina 81 (OT)

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    The 2004 matchup in Chapel Hill was the first meeting in the rivalry between Mike Krzyzewski and new North Carolina head coach Roy Williams. 

    Williams, who was coming off of a national title game appearance from a season ago with Kansas, returned to his alma mater with a formidable group of superior talent. 

    With Duke holding a 74-71 lead late in regulation, North Carolina's Jawad Williams knocked down the game-tying three with 18 seconds to go. 

    Duke guard Daniel Ewing's winning field-goal attempt was off the mark, sending this classic game to overtime.

    In the extra period, Duke center Shelden Williams imposed himself on the defensive end, swatting two of his game-high five blocks while helping force a North Carolina shot-clock violation with 22 seconds left on the game clock.

    After North Carolina's Rashad McCants hit the game-tying three with 15 seconds to go, Duke's senior leader Chris Duhon received the inbounds pass, raced the length of the floor and scored on a beautiful reverse layup to give Duke the advantage and the victory.

    It was the 16th straight victory overall for Duke that season, and the fifth in the past six years in Chapel Hill. 

    "I think you do it an injustice to say it was a great Duke-Carolina game," Krzyzewski said postgame. "It was a great game. You can't match the intensity level."

4. March 6, 2005: No. 2 North Carolina 75, No. 6 Duke 73

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    Before the largest crowd to see a college game on-campus in the state of North Carolina (22,125), the North Carolina Tar Heels had a chance to win their first outright ACC regular-season championship since 1993 on Senior Day. 

    Standing in their way was arch-rival Duke.

    Never rattled by the raucous environment inside the Dean Dome, Duke held a nine-point lead, 73-64, with just over three minutes left to play.

    However, Duke would not score another basket.

    Behind a pair of offensive rebounds and subsequent putbacks by North Carolina's Jawad Williams and Marvin Williams, the Tar Heels had trimmed the lead down to five in just a minute.

    After Duke's DeMarcus Nelson missed the front end of a one-and-one, North Carolina's beefy big man Sean May completed a three-point play, closing the gap to a two-point deficit.

    A key defensive play by North Carolina's David Noel gave the Tar Heels a chance to tie or even take the lead. 

    The ball was in the hands of their star point guard Raymond Felton, who penetrated and drew contact in the lane, resulting in a pair of free throws.

    After making the first, Felton missed the second, but was able to tap the rebound to freshman Marvin Williams, who then went straight up and scored while drawing a foul. 

    The North Carolina faithful erupted, sending the Dean Dome into a frenzy. 

    Williams completed the three-point play, vaulting North Carolina into a 75-73 lead. 

    As Duke called timeout to set up one final play, the ball was expected to be in the hands of sharpshooter J.J. Redick. 

    Redick attempted the game-winning three, but it rimmed out. 

    Daniel Ewing collected the offensive rebound, but his desperation jumper fell short. North Carolina captured the win and the 2005 ACC regular-season title.

    The Tar Heels went on to win its fourth national championship that season, and Duke faded in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

3. February 28, 1981: Duke 66, No. 11 North Carolina 65 (OT)

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    Mike Krzyzewski took the Duke head coaching job on March 18, 1980.

    And it didn't take him long after that to secure his first victory over North Carolina.

    While the first meeting in the 1981 season went North Carolina's way, Duke fought valiantly in defeat, inspired by its energetic and fiery new head coach.

    The second meeting was more of the same, except for the end result.

    After struggling for much of the season, the regular-season finale against North Carolina was one to remember.

    While North Carolina controlled much of the game early, Duke capitalized on a four-minute scoring drought by the Tar Heels in the second half to pull ahead, 46-45.

    Both teams traded baskets until North Carolina's Sam Perkins converted two free throws to give the Tar Heels the 58-56 advantage with only two seconds remaining. 

    After a Duke timeout with one second to go, senior Gene Banks took the inbounds pass and swished through the game-tying basket as time expired, extending his senior day in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

    With time running down in overtime, North Carolina held onto a 65-64 lead.

    Following an offensive rebound off of a Vince Taylor miss, Banks banked home the winning basket with 19 seconds left to play. 

    The result held up, and Duke went on to the 66-65 overtime victory, giving Coach Krzyzewski his first of many victories over the Tar Heels.

2. February 28, 1998: No. 1 Duke 77, No. 3 North Carolina 75

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    You can make a strong case that the 1998 regular-season finale between No. 1 Duke and No. 3 North Carolina could be the greatest game in the history of this rivalry. 

    Yet it lands at No. 2 in these rankings.

    This marquee matchup was significant for Duke and head coach Mike Krzyzewski because a victory would give the Blue Devils the ACC regular-season title and it would be the 500th career win for Coach Krzyzewski.

    But North Carolina would not lay down so easily.

    After amassing an incredible 17-point lead midway through the second half, North Carolina seemingly had this game on cruise control.

    However, Duke rallied in spectacular fashion.

    Freshman Elton Brand, who was just two months removed from a broken foot that most assumed would cost him the remainder of his first year at Duke, keyed the comeback, as the Blue Devils pulled within striking distance by going on a 32-11 run in just 10 minutes.

    Tied at 75, Duke forward Roshown McLeod score the go-ahead basket with one minute left to play, giving him a team-high 23 points for the game. 

    North Carolina then experienced a series of lapses on the offensive end as time was running out. 

    Late misses from the free-throw line by Ed Cota and Brendan Haywood and unsuccessful second-chance attempts preserved the win for Duke, 77-75.

    While the win gave Duke another ACC regular-season title and Coach Krzyzewski his 500th career coaching victory, the game's lasting image was that of Duke senior—and current associate head coach—Steve Wojciechowski sprinting to his head coach and embracing him with a celebratory hug in his final game as player in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

1. February 2, 1995: No. 2 North Carolina 102, Duke 100 (2OT)

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    Of all of the games in this storied rivalry, none has topped the 1995 double-overtime clash on February 2.

    First, the major story from that particular season was that of Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski taking a leave of absence from the team after attempting a rushed return to the sidelines following offseason back surgery.

    He had coached the team's first 12 games of that season, compiling a 9-3 overall record. 

    In his absence, longtime assistant Pete Gaudet took over as interim head coach. 

    And the results weren't pretty. 

    Nevertheless, the Gaudet-led Blue Devils hosted the No. 2 North Carolina Tar Heels, led by the explosive Jerry Stackhouse and ferocious Rasheed Wallace.

    Outmanned from the start, North Carolina raced out to a 26-9 lead, highlighted by rim-rattling jams from Wallace and an electric and spectacular reverse dunk from Stackhouse over two Duke players.

    However, Duke dug deep and laid down a heavy challenge for the Tar Heels in the second half. 

    They erased their deficit and led by as many as 12 before North Carolina began to pull themselves back into the game.

    Exchanging leads multiple times, both teams found themselves tied at the end of regulation.

    In the first overtime, North Carolina held a narrow 95-92 lead and sent 7'3" center Serge Zwikker to the foul line to ice the game. 

    But he did the exact opposite. 

    Zwikker missed both, giving Duke one last chance to force a second overtime.

    And that they did.

    Duke's Jeff Capel raced across half court and put up a running, 37-foot prayer that rattled home, sending the Cameron Crazies into delirium.

    In the second overtime, the game remained close throughout, as North Carolina held a late 102-98 lead. Duke scored to trim it to two and forced a defensive stop on the next Tar Heels possession, setting up a chance for an improbable victory or a third extra period.

    But it never came. 

    Steve Wojciechowski's jumper missed and Greg Newton's putback fell way short, and North Carolina escaped with a 102-100 win.

    As North Carolina came away with the victory, in this case, you can also say that Duke emerged as a winner also. 

    It was a game that showed the true emotion of the rivalry between these two programs. 

    Passion, determination, excitement and even depression. 

    And that's why the 94-year rivalry between Duke and North Carolina is the greatest in all of sports.