NEW ORLEANS — Haymaker after haymaker. Dagger after dagger. Back and forth they went. It seemed like it might never end, and no one watching would have complained.
After 83 years, Carolina and Duke finally delivered a game to the NCAA Tournament, and, on April 2, March got a true understanding of what madness really was.
It was desperate. It was ugly at times. It was raw desire. Few things have ever been as beautiful.
North Carolina and Duke met for the biggest stakes their rivalry game has ever had, and with all the hype and all the attention, they delivered in spades.
There were a dozen ties, 18 lead changes and a win probability graph that spiked up and down like the heart monitor readings for anyone with a vested interest in the outcome.
Caleb Love wrote his name on the Mount Rushmore of UNC shots, hitting a 3-pointer to clinch North Carolina’s 81-77 win over Duke. The Tar Heels move on to the national championship game against Kansas, while Duke bids farewell to Mike Krzyzewski, who suffers a loss to the Tar Heels in what became the final game of his Hall of Fame career.
Carolina led by four early. Duke stormed back. The Blue Devils twice built leads of six points. UNC stormed back.
The fouls mounted as physical play and officials calling it tight combined to test the depth of both teams. Duke’s Mark Williams had two fouls in four and a half minutes. Theo John came in and scored an improbable six points before racking up four fouls before the half.
In the second half, Duke came out on fire, building a slim lead up to seven points. After missing all four of his first-half 3-point attempts, Love put on his cape and hit a 3 to cut the lead to four. He promptly hit another cutting it to one and sparked a 13-0 Carolina run.
Love hit 3 of 6 from 3 in the second half and scored 22 of his 28 points after the break, leading the parade of heroes on both sides. Armando Bacot played through a second-half ankle injury to pull down 21 rebounds. For Duke, Paolo Banchero had 20 points and 10 rebounds, while Trevor Keels had 19 points.
Just when Duke appeared ready to go down, the Blue Devils stormed back and tied the score.
As the teams traded runs, time ticked away and pressure amped up on both sides. With just over two minutes left, the game blew past classic and steamrolled into all-timer status.
With Carolina leading by two, Keels made a 3-pointer with 2:07 left to give Duke the lead. A mere 26 seconds later, Brady Manek hit one of his own to give the lead back to the Tar Heels. Twenty-one seconds later, Wendell Moore hit a from beyond the arc, and the lead went back to the Blue Devils. It appeared that the game would be decided by the first team to miss.
That turned out to be Mark Williams, who missed two free throws with Duke down one with 46 seconds left. That’s when Love hit his cold-blooded dagger of a 3 to give the Tar Heels a four-point lead, the first time in seven minutes that more than one possession separated the teams.
Now, after spending 83 years of emotion in 40 minutes, the Tar Heels need to regroup before Monday night.
“That’s easy,” said UNC coach Hubert Davis. “I want them to celebrate tonight. It’s a special moment for our program. I want them to enjoy themselves. That’s important. There’s more than enough time to prepare for Kansas. We’re playing for a national championship. If you’re not motivated for that, you shouldn’t be playing.”