The Shot That Lit Up The Night

In three seconds college basketball's best rivalry went to a whole new level courtesy of a freshman guard from Winter Park, Fla.


In one instant, a rivalry already considered the best in college basketball went to another level.

For now, it meant a stunning Duke victory over rival North Carolina, possibly a season-changing outcome that produced a historic win and a superstar.

In time, we'll know more.

The phones rang all day as fans and friends and family called to talk about the game, the shot and the meaning of Duke's 85-84 win in the Dean Dome. Was it the greatest game ever? Was it the biggest shot in the history of the 233-game rivalry?

This series is never about one game. But this one will resonate for the rest of the season and into the years to come. Duke got its season back. Carolina was left forlorn and devastated, not just its fans but the entire program.

Roy Williams was ashen when he saw Austin Rivers' 3-pointer go in. He kneeled, looked at the floor and then glanced at the celebration among the Duke players, coaches and managers.

Afterward, he struggled to explain the loss. Mike Krzyzewski struggled to explain the win.

"We fought like crazy just to stay close," he said. "Then we got hot at the end."

That explained it about as well as anything. The hero, a 19-year-old kid playing in his first Duke-Carolina game, had no idea what had just happened.

"I can't explain it," he said.

Games like this change things, and an ending like this in the series could have long-term effects. The rivalry has gone back and forth, and the pendulum of power is moved by big games and championships. This one felt like a postseason win. For UNC's fans, it sank in hard.

Rivers' shot will be replayed for as long as the schools play basketball. There's never been a bigger one in this series. It could serve as a turning point for the reeling Devils. They'd lost two home games. They'd lost some of their support from students. The days leading up to the Carolina game were tense.

In one instant, everything changed. Carolina, if not the rest of the country, has to deal with Duke now. For all its struggles and despite its recent losses, Duke is 20-4 and tied for the ACC lead at 7-2.

And it has a new superstar. Rivers will join the greats now, no matter how the season ends for the Blue Devils. He'll almost certainly walk away to the NBA, a potential No. 1 pick with an entire basketball career ahead of him.

That career took to the national stage as time ran out Wednesday. His shot was seen by every basketball scout in America, every potential Duke or Carolina recruit and every college basketball junkie in this basketball state.

"This was big for Durham, for North Carolina and for college basketball," Rivers said in the heady moments after the game.

No one doubts that. Its influence will grow. The rivalry that couldn't get any bigger is immeasurably bigger now. The conference that seemed to be having a down year now has the seminal moment of an entire season. And it's only February.

These games get bigger over time. In the days leading up to this one, stories were written about the great moments in past UNC-Duke games, stories of long-ago games and incidents and shots that rattle through history.

The Rivers shot will go in a thousand times through the years, and Tyler Zeller will never be able to stop it. Duke's moment will eclipse all the moments that came before it in this series, especially the Jeff Capel shot that only prolonged a loss in 1995.

The significance of the Duke win will become clearer as the season plays out. The significance of the Carolina loss might be harder to gauge. But no one who saw the shot will ever forget it.

No shot in this long and storied series was ever bigger. And it could get even bigger in the years to come.

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