An Unrivaled Rivalry

UNC Press gives Inside Carolina readers an exclusive sneak peek into the new book "Carolina Basketball: A Century of Excellence."

From CAROLINA BASKETBALL: A CENTURY OF EXCELLENCE by Adam Lucas. Foreword by Dean Smith. Afterword by Roy Williams. Copyright © 2010 by Tobacco Road Media, Inc. Published by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. Available from or wherever books are sold.

Chapter 6
An Unrivaled Rivalry

History shows that Carolina Basketball rivalries have waxed and waned. But one school has managed to maintain a consistent—and ferocious—presence on the list of most hated UNC opponents: Duke University.

In addition to overcoming NC State, Frank McGuire also had to stop a disturbing trend against the Blue Devils. By the mid-1950s, Duke was riding a streak of 10 victories in 11 tries against Carolina. It wasn't that the Blue Devils were particularly good, as they were unranked in all but three of those wins. It was that both of the programs had settled firmly behind the Wolfpack, and Duke was a little less behind.

Even 40 years ago, Cameron Indoor Stadium had an unfriendly reputation among visiting teams. Before they were known as the Cameron Crazies, Duke students would come to the Carolina game in suits and slicked-back hair to mimic McGuire. Give them credit for studying the Tar Heel head coach: they even knew how to adjust their tie, a McGuire tic that was usually the only outward sign of nervousness he displayed during the game. The coach, who was extremely conscious of his outward appearance, hated the imitation.

"We won a game at Duke in 1959, and the fans poured onto the court," said Harvey Salz." McGuire wasn't going to let us walk through the crowd. So he had the Duke officials get police protection for us to leave the court. That's the kind of thing that could create a lot of animosity and rivalry."

"I wanted to play anyplace except Duke," said Hugh Donohue (1959–60, 1962). "Back then, they didn't just paint their faces at Duke. They threw hot pennies."

The physical nature of the rivalry sometimes extended to the court. The conflict began when New York native Art Heyman backed out of a commitment to join McGuire's Tar Heels and instead signed with new Duke head coach Vic Bubas. Thus began a series of physical confrontations, starting with a fight during a freshman game in Siler City.

The apex came in Durham in February 1961, as a hard Heyman foul on Larry Brown set off what veteran ACC observer Al Featherston called "the ugliest scene in ACC history." It turned into a 10-minute donnybrook involving players, coaches, and fans. The fallout lasted much longer than 10 minutes; at his postgame press conference, Bubas reviewed the game film with writers, and a later report from ACC commissioner Bob Weaver placed the blame for the incident on Brown, teammate Donnie Walsh, and Heyman. All three players were suspended for the remainder of the regular season. The brawl also had a measurable effect on future seasons: because of that fight, team benches were moved from the baseline to the side of the court to prevent reserves from getting involved in heated confrontations under the basket.

"That was a good example of two young guys who went after each other in high school and kept going after each other in college," said York Larese, who played in the 1961 game.

The Brown-Heyman feud set the foundation for a rivalry that would eventually gain national attention. After Heyman's graduation in 1963, Carolina controlled the battles, and Duke would eventually fall behind NC State in the Triangle hierarchy. The Blue Devils served mainly as the foils for great Carolina exploits, like Phil Ford's heroic Senior Day performance in 1978 (a career-high 34 points) or the legendary 8-point comeback in 17 seconds in 1974 — when there was no three-point line.

The almost unbelievable sequence of events for that comeback, which immediately set the standard for Tar Heel end-of-game magic, included:

• 0:17: Bobby Jones hits both ends of a one-and-one. Duke 86, Carolina 80.
• 0:13: John Kuester makes a layup off a botched Duke inbounds pass. Duke 86, Carolina 82.
• 0:06: Another bad inbounds pass by Duke leads to an Ed Stahl miss, but Jones rebounds the miss and scores. Duke 86, Carolina 84.
• 0:04: The Blue Devils finally get the ball inbounds, this time to junior Pete Kramer, who made 82% of his free throws as a sophomore and senior but as a junior was shooting only 57.9%. He clanks the front end of a one-and-one and Stahl grabs the rebound, signaling for a time-out with three seconds remaining.

"The whole time the comeback was happening, Coach Smith was very calm in the huddle," Stahl said. "He'd say something like, ‘Now fellas, we need to steal the inbounds pass, make a lay-up and call time-out.' And of course, we always did what Coach Smith said to do, so that's what we did.

"He had an uncanny confidence in those situations. He would always say something like, ‘Isn't this fun?' And it was. When we broke the huddle, we always had the belief that it would play out the way we had prepared for it to."

In that final time-out, Smith designed a play for Walter Davis. It didn't go exactly as the coach had planned on the chalkboard, but it worked well enough for Davis to bank in the game-tying shot from 25 feet and send Carmichael Auditorium into pandemonium. The Tar Heels had to mount a little comeback in overtime, but they ultimately prevailed, 96–92.

For the next decade, Duke joined several excellent ACC foes in rivaling Carolina. A parade of talented contenders, including Ralph Sampson's Virginia and Lefty Driesell's Maryland, tried and failed to overthrow the Tar Heels. But Blue Devil coach Mike Krzyzewski — who had taken over the program in 1980 — eventually guided Duke back to the top of the league. The annual clash between UNC and Duke to determine ACC supremacy turned as contentious as anything since the Brown-Heyman scuffle.

In 1989 Carolina was seven years removed from its last Final Four appearance, while the Blue Devils had been to two of the previous three Final Fours. Krzyzewski had won a major head-to-head recruiting battle with Smith, stealing Danny Ferry from the Tar Heels. Ferry was the ACC Tournament MVP in 1988, when Duke earned a "Triple Crown" (three wins and no losses) over Carolina for the first time since 1966.

The teams split their regular-season meetings in 1989, each winning on the other's home court. Both made their way to the ACC Tournament finals, setting the stage for one of the most intense championship games in league history.

"I remember hating everybody at Duke," said Pete Chilcutt, a UNC sophomore in 1989. "We didn't want to be friends with them. I can't explain why, but it wasn't something I wanted to do. It's not that I thought they were bad people. That was just my attitude. I didn't mind being friends with State or Wake, but Duke wasn't something I would consider. It was a very bitter rivalry. It wasn't good-natured. It was real animosity."

The animosity had several causes. J.R. Reid (1987–89) and Scott Williams (1987–90) saw Ferry as prissy, but Ferry had justifiably earned ACC Player of the Year honors. Smith had caused a front-page controversy by objecting to signs at Cameron Indoor Stadium that he saw as racially motivated. In his frustration, he revealed information about the standardized test scores of several players involved in the rivalry; that move angered Krzyzewski.

The animosity between the two coaches quickly became evident to the sellout crowd at Atlanta's Omni. At one point, Krzyzewski screamed at Williams for rough play under the basket. Smith quickly took exception, yelling at Krzyzewski, "Don't talk to my players!" Phil Henderson would later receive a technical foul and respond by kicking over a chair on the Duke bench.

"There was a lot of trash-talking on the court, but what I remember is that it was probably the most physical game we played during my four years," said Jeff Denny (1987–90). "But our senior leaders, Jeff Lebo and Steve Bucknall, provided the leadership we needed to win the game. I think we knew we were better than they were. We felt like the previous time they had beaten us up a little bit, and we thought maybe it was our turn to beat them up."

Forty-nine fouls were called in the game, and Carolina survived only after a three-quarter-court heave by Ferry bounced off the rim at the buzzer.

The presence of Duke stars Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley ensured a passionate element to the rivalry's next four years. On February 5, 1992, Carolina toppled an undefeated Duke team in Chapel Hill, prompting the first court storming in Smith Center history. That game is better remembered as the "bloody Montross" game, when sophomore center Eric Montross sustained a pair of cuts on his face. Blood streamed down his face as he made a pair of important late-game free throws, forever searing the image in the minds of Carolina fans. Almost two decades after the game, Montross says he receives far more questions from fans about that game than about his role in the 1993 national championship.

As the attention given to the two teams increased, players began to notice a difference in the way Smith handled the games.

"I think Coach Smith appreciated the fact that his players' emotions were so high, that he was going to have a greater tolerance for how the game would be played," said Pearce Landry (1994–95). "If you watch the first ten minutes of most UNC-Duke games, they're pretty ugly. There's a lot of emotion and clanking shots. Coach Smith had done it so many times that he realized when the adrenaline level is that high, you have to let your players play in the moment."

"I loved those games," said Brian Reese (1991–94). "Many times, Coach Smith would want us more structured. But when we played against Duke, he seemed more relaxed. Coach Smith allowed us to go out there and have a little — not a lot — more freedom."

A similar tactical adjustment has proved beneficial for Roy Williams in recent seasons. Under Krzyzewski, Duke has been known for its hard-nosed, man-to-man defense. But when the Tar Heels have had good speed at point guard, the Blue Devils have not always possessed the athleticism to compete in those head-to-head matchups. Their signature is pressure all over the court, stepping into passing lanes even 35 or 40 feet from the basket. That type of risk-taking can open driving lanes because there's very little help available to stop the penetrating guard.

One recent result of this advantage in speed was a series of standout performances by point guard Ty Lawson, including a combined 38 points, 14 assists, and 12 rebounds in his final two games against Duke in 2009.

"I felt like I could get to the basket no matter where I was on the court," Lawson said. "So I just kept it going and we were able to keep it rolling."

"I think he got to the point where he felt like he was unguardable," assistant coach C.B. McGrath said. "There were times he knew he could take over the game."

There's a national perception that because of the mere eight-mile distance between the two campuses, the UNC and Duke basketball programs are very similar. During the 1980s and part of the 1990s, that might have been true. Both schools often recruited the same players and were always near the top of the national rankings.

Since then, however, the two programs have rarely been at the pinnacle together. When Williams arrived in 2003, Duke had clearly been dominating the rivalry, winning key recruiting battles and thrashing Carolina on the court. Since then, though, the balance has shifted, and the Tar Heels have had the upper hand both head-to-head and nationally. UNC's dominance included a 4–0 record at Duke from 2006 to 2009, making Tyler Hansbrough and Danny Green the only Tar Heels in history to play in four straight wins at Cameron Indoor Stadium during the Krzyzewski era.

On campus, the annual meeting with Duke has become the centerpiece of the basketball schedule — almost to the detriment of other home games. While the Tar Heels played in front of less-than-capacity Smith Center crowds in the first three months of the 2009–10 season, tickets for the Duke game were so prized that the annual "What would you do for Duke tickets?" contest had become a regular feature of campus life. Past contestants have taken part in body waxing, Jell-O wrestling, and a variety of food-related competitions that would appeal only to desperate college students.

In 2009 an HBO documentary chronicled what has become generally accepted as the nation's best college basketball rivalry, and at least two popular books have been written exclusively about the enmity between Carolina and Duke.

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