The rivalry that always delivers and stresses college basketball fans to the max hits the hardwood once again for the 261st time with a showdown between two top 7 teams and all sorts of high expectations.
There are countless memorable moments, classic plays, and thrilling finishes, but allow me to attempt to highlight the top 5 greatest UNC victories over its Tobacco Road rivals in the past 20 years, i.e. since Roy Williams took over and passed the torch to Hubert Davis.
5. March 4, 2007
This contest just barely edges out the 2008 “Green Tea” game where Danny Green’s manhood found its way to Greg Paulus’ face in an unforgettable posterization. But no, #5 goes to the infamous Gerald Henderson elbow game. It was the final seconds of the game and the final outcome wasn’t in question, yet Henderson came at Tyler Hansbrough with an out-of-control, overly aggressive blast to the nose that became just one more notch in the ‘best rivalry in sports’ belt.
Both players have since reconciled and agree that it was unintentional, but I will never be convinced. I was at that game and I can tell you that he earned every bit of the Psycho T nickname when he jumped up, smeared the blood that poured from his nose all over his face, and had to be held back by multiple teammates from destroying Gerald Henderson.
Final score: North Carolina 86, Duke 72
4. March 4, 2006
The beginning of the Hansbrough Indoor Stadium era just happened to joyously coincide with three-point assassin and perpetual thorn-in-the-side J.J. Redick’s senior night. Duke was #1 in the nation at the time but a few freshmen named Tyler, Danny, Bobby, and Marcus had plans to spoil this particular celebration, including #50’s second-half shot clock buzzer-beating three that left the Cameron Crazies completely shook.
This was the game that’s often recalled where Hansbrough almost emotionally ignites and rips his jersey off Hulk Hogan-style. Totally unexpected and utterly exhilarating.
Final score: North Carolina 83, Duke 76
3. March 6, 2005
Marvin. Freaking. Williams. Carolina had already lost to Duke in Durham in their first matchup of the season. Now the Blue Devils roll into Chapel Hill and appear to be headed for another W, up 9 with just three minutes remaining. It felt like it was over. After a patented Tar Heel comeback, Raymond Felton goes to the foul line down 2. He makes the first and misses the second, but freshman phenom Marvin Williams grabs the rebound and makes a fantastic and-1 put-back that would seal the win for UNC, break the sound barrier in the Dean Dome, and take this grown man to his apartment floor in tears of joy.
Final score: North Carolina 75, Duke 73
2. March 5, 2022
Had he not announced his farewell tour before the season, I don’t know that Mike Krzyzewski would have gone out after this. Alas, that’s what an overinflated ego and a bunch of retirement gifts gets you.
After losing to the Blue Devils by 20 a month earlier in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels came in and shocked the world and nearly a hundred former Duke players on-site. Spoiling K’s Cameron finale. In a word... acceptable.
Final score: North Carolina 94, Duke 81
1. April 2, 2022
Number one with a bullet. Coach K’s finale. The only time the two squads have ever met in the Final Four. Bragging rights forever. That dagger three. Watching it will never get old and no matter what happens this year, I’ll always have love for you, Caleb. Just magic.
Final score: North Carolina 81, Duke 77
I’m sure I’m leaving one or two at least out. Remind me in the comments what your favorite UNC/Duke rivalry memories and games are.