I still can’t believe they won. I truly cannot believe they did it. The North Carolina Tar Heels, led by first-year head coach Hubert Davis, just knocked the Duke Blue Devils out of the Final Four. Two of Coach K’s final three losses will forever be to UNC, and now he will retire with a 1-2 record to Davis. You truly love to see it, and now the Heels will play Kansas for the national championship on Monday.
Trash-talking aside, this game will go down in the history books as one of the greatest NCAA Tournament games ever. It had the rivalry, numerous lead changes, foul trouble, and Caleb Love hitting a game-changing three-pointer that all but ensured a victory for the Heels. If you are a casual college basketball fan, do take the time to cherish and appreciate what you just watched. If you are a Carolina or Duke fan, you should be proud to have witnessed such a historic moment. But enough of my rambling, let’s discuss the three things we learned from this game.
Caleb Love does it again
The first half of last night’s game was incredibly stressful, there were a good amount of reasons for that — Armando Bacot was held to just five points, Brady Manek only finished with four, and three-point shooting was as bad as it could’ve been. Caleb Love in particular had a bad time shooting from deep, going 0-4 from behind the arc, which was an issue that piled onto everything else going on. However, it was hard not to feel like “Second Half Caleb” would make an appearance, and boy did he ever.
Love had a big second half for the Tar Heels, scoring 22 of his 28 points and he managed to knock down three triples. The biggest moment for Love came in the final 28 seconds when he drained a three-pointer to give the Heels a 78-74 lead. Love would then make his way to the line twice and knock down three of his four free throw attempts, and put the game out of reach.
I know I keep saying this, but a lot of people have been hard on Love all season long, myself included. It is amazing to see him perform so well in the NCAA Tournament, and even better to see him bury Duke after Armando Bacot fouled out. I hope he has enough left in the tank for Monday, because he’s going to need it.
Against all odds
Here is one of the more incredible parts of this win over Duke: there were a lot of things that flat-out didn’t go in UNC’s favor. Let’s start with turnovers: the Heels coughed up the ball 10 times, while Duke only gave up the ball four times. When it comes to points in the paint, the Blue Devils shredded the Heels, just as they have done every other team in the NCAA Tournament. Finally, Armando Bacot not only hurt his ankle in the final minutes of the game, but he ended up fouling out with little time left. That would’ve been Duke’s chance to capitalize against a smaller UNC lineup, but once again, Caleb Love happened.
Sure, UNC shot way better than the Blue Devils did from the three-point line, but even then the game was way too close for comfort. Both teams were playing really good defense, and Duke’s ability to get to the rim made it feel like we were going to experience an upset that none of us would ever recover from. However, the Heels toughed it out once again, showing once and for all that this might be one of the toughest teams in Carolina basketball history. Amazing how narratives change throughout a season, isn’t it?
Permanent bragging rights: activated
Let me lead with this: I am on the record for saying I didn’t want this game to happen. Now that the Heels have won, I would like to say once again that what Duke fans are feeling right now is exactly why I never wanted this to happen. In a way, these two meeting in the Final Four was inevitable. It’s mind-boggling that for decades this game never happened, but there was a certain form of comfort in the rivalry that the stakes were never higher than the ACC Tournament championship. Now that both teams made it, the worst has finally happened for Duke: permanent bragging rights.
Last night’s win is something that Duke fans will never be able to live down, and it especially stings that Coach K’s final two losses were to the Heels. It is something Dean Smith and Roy Williams never dealt with, and if you want to throw him into the mix, Hubert Davis. Don’t get me wrong: it is really, really hard for me to feel bad for Duke fans, and I’ll go as far as to say that I flat-out don’t. However, I would’ve been perfectly content never playing a Coach K-led Duke team again after the Heels’ win in Cameron, and the aftermath of last night’s game is exactly why. For Carolina fans: celebrate, talk trash, and overall be happy that the 2021-22 Tar Heels made it to the national championship game and will face off against Kansas. For Duke fans, let’s just make an agreement to not do this again for another 100 years. Ok? Ok.