Our dedicated Chronicle staff spends most of its time watching and analyzing Duke athletics, but when it comes time for Duke – North Carolina, those writers not on press row all revert to being fans. What follows is what a few of our writers, who were all in attendance in the student section Wednesday night, deem the biggest and most memorable moments from the Blue Devils’ 79-73 victory over the Tar Heels.
Senior Laura Keeley: It was the final dagger to the hearts of those wearing the wrong color blue.
Kendall Marshall had just made his second free throw attempt to cut Duke’s lead to four at 75-71 with 16 seconds left. The Blue Devils were forced to call timeout due to North Carolina’s defense on the inbounds pass, and the situation was looking increasingly worrisome. But then from my vantage point, six or seven rows back and even with the free throw line Duke was shooting at in the second half, I saw Nolan Smith take off down the court like a receiver on a go route. He had gotten behind Marshall, and the inbound pass sailed to him. A dribble and a few steps later, Smith threw the ball down emphatically through the rim. With that, there would be no miracle minute from the Tar Heels, and Duke won the best game I’ve ever seen in Cameron to bring my personal record at North Carolina home games to 2-2.
Freshman Danny Nolan: When Seth Curry caught fire in the second half, it not only sparked Duke to victory, but also brought back the excitement from the Cameron Crazies. The best moment in the game, however, had to be when Nolan Smith broke away on the inbounds pass and dunked the ball on the other end to really seal the victory. The crowd noise was deafening and full of pure joy after what really had been an emotional roller coaster of a game up until that point.
Junior Nick Schwartz: As a junior, I’ve witnessed the domination of both Duke and North Carolina in Cameron Indoor Stadium. In 2009, Ty Lawson and Co. pummeled the Blue Devils in the second half, scoring 57 points to come from behind and win their fourth straight in Durham. In 2010, Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith torched for 65 points, collectively, and Duke beat North Carolina 82-50 in what was the biggest home margin of victory in the rivalry’s history.
Wednesday night was different. Whereas there was a distinctly favored team in each of the previous two contests, the 2011 edition was a relatively even battle. After the first 2:33 of the second half, during which an 8-0 Blue Devil run cut the deficit to six, it was clear that what was about to unfold was going to be special. The palpable tension in Cameron during the final 20 minutes Wednesday is something only this rivalry can evoke, and the grand stage made for not only what Smith called the “biggest game of [his] career”, but for the emergence of perhaps the next star in this heated series, Seth Curry.
Senior Sabreena Merchant: The allure of the Duke-North Carolina game, and what makes it so much more exciting for me than any other home game, is the crowd it draws. We get to share the experience of watching the game with celebrities and former players who still love being part of the rivalry, no matter how many years it’s been since they played in it. I’ll always remember this year’s game because Rasheed Wallace was there. I have never once rooted for Wallace in his entire career, but you can’t deny the man’s entertainment value. Watching him yell at the referees just like he did when he was a player and go ballistic to the point of throwing his beanie off, and yelling “Ball Don’t Lie” whenever the Tar Heels missed a free throw are the moments that you can’t really get outside of Cameron, and outside of this rivalry. It takes a game like Duke-North Carolina to get that kind of emotion out of someone, even someone as easily riled up as Rasheed, and I loved every bit of his reactions. Especially when Nolan Smith shut him up in the second half.