It’s fair to say that most natives of the great state of North Carolina, bleed one of two shades of blue: the baby blue of North Carolina at Chapel Hill or the dark blue of Duke. Both programs have a legion of passionate fans that are consumed by every aspect of the rivalry and fueled by hatred of each other. Both sides are steeped in rich history and success and many great players have ascended to legendary status playing on either side of Tobacco Road.
When the two meet, they consistently bring the best out of each other, regardless of national ranking or current form.
Wednesday night’s game at Chapel Hill was just another in a long list of great games between the two storied rivals. Played at a frenetic pace from start to finish, it was a new face that forever inserted himself in Tobacco Road lore. Despite not having a lead for the entire second half, freshman guard Austin Rivers nailed a buzzer beating three pointer over the outstretched arms of Tyler Zeller, to give Duke an 85-84 comeback win over North Carolina.
From the onset it was clear Rivers was unfazed by the big stage. He finished the game with 29 points and six threes, none more important than the last. It was a performance that gives Duke reason to believe they can lean on Rivers as their go to scorer.
Although Zeller exercised his will in the first half and finished the game with 23 points and 11 rebounds, and Harrison Barnes paced the Carolina offense after halftime, scoring 19 of his 25 points, North Carolina displayed the flaws that could hold them back come tournament time, taking unnecessary fouls and not closing the game out from the free throw line, going 8 for 15 from the stripe in the second half.
Duke won a big game on North Carolina’s home game but all things considered, of the two in-state rivals, it stills appears that the Tar Heels are more prepared to make a deep tournament run. Zeller and John Henson anchor a dominant front court that leads the nation in rebounding, Barnes providing an explosive scoring threat, and most importantly, Kendall Marshall leading the team as the point guard. Guard play is crucial in March, and more will be expected Marshall, who is second in the NCAA in assists per game with 9.8, as backcourt mate Dexter Strickland is out for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. What’s the biggest takeaway from the winners circle? Rivers’ performance is certainly an encouraging sign for the Blue Devils chances this season if he can be their consistent leading offensive option.
The much anticipated rematch between UNC and Duke is March 3rd at the Cameron Indoor Stadium, and there’s an excellent chance that the ACC regular season title will be at stake.