During the week leading up to the titanic showdown, some intrepid Dookies snuck into the Dean Dome and stole Michael Jordan’s jersey from the rafters…
…and then the North Carolina Tar Heels stole Duke’s lunch and ate it in front of them.
For the second time in 90s, a #1 Duke team came to Chapel Hill to do battle with a #2 UNC team. The first, in 1994, was a hard fought Tar Heel victory that revealed that the Blue Devils had the best player (Grant Hill), but the Tar Heels had the better team. In 1998, the Tar Heels served notice that they had the best player AND the best team.
The Blue Devils came into Chapel Hill with a deep squad, loaded with both veteran talent (Trajan Langdon, Roshown McLeod, Steve Wojciechowski) and freshman phenoms (Shane Battier, Will Avery). Elton Brand was still out with a foot injury, but this hadn’t stopped Coach K’s squad from rolling to nine-straight wins to start the ACC. Carolina didn’t have Duke’s depth, but in Bill Guthridge’s “Six Starters” (Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter, Ed Cota, Shammond Williams, Ademola Okulaja, and Makhtar Ndiaye) they had more than enough talent to match the Devils.
What transpired is best remembered as The Antawn Jamison Show. Carolina’s All-American effectively ended the National Player of the Year race at some point late in the first half. Make no mistake: That Duke team was terrific defensively, with players like Battier and Chris Carrawell leading the way and having plenty of support. All of them were helpless against Jamison, who unleashed his full arsenal of post moves to great effect: By halftime he had 23 points, 11 straight during one stretch. The Tar Heels had a 50-34 lead, the first time the Blue Devils had trailed at the half all season.
In the second half, Vince Carter got in on the act, with several of his patented dunks, one a beautiful alley-oop from Ed Cota. Even seldom-used freshman Brendan Haywood had some big slams of his own. The Tar Heel lead stretched to 20.
But midway through the second, the Tar Heels threatened to self-destruct. Makhtar Ndiaye, always an emotional player, was whistled for his fifth foul on Shane Battier (a dubious one at best) and angrily spiked the ball, resulting in a technical. The foul put the Blue Devils in the bonus, the technical gave them two more free throws and the ball; they converted on each of them and scored, shaving six points off the lead. Moments later, Trajan Langdon nailed a jumper to cut the lead to 73-69. A stunned Dean Dome was looking at an all-time collapse.
Then Ed Cota took over. The sophomore playmaker attacked several times off the dribble, converting two key layups to stop the bleeding, and then Carter hit a terrific putback fallaway jumper. A couple stops and a Cota dime for a Haywood, and the rout was back on. The Heels closed the game on a 24-4 run after the Langdon jumper.
There was also the greatest missed dunk in college basketball history:
Had Vince nailed that dunk, Duke would no longer exist as a basketball program, the Tar Heels would’ve won the 1998 National Championship, and this game would be #1 on our list. I firmly believe this.
As it was, the Tar Heels were victorious 97-73 and left no doubt that they were the team to beat in college basketball. Jamison finished with 35 points and 11 rebounds on 14-20 shooting from the field. Cota had 12 points and 12 assists, humiliating his Duke counterpart Steve Wojciechowski, who had hilariously been put on the cover of Sports Illustrated at the start of the season (‘cause Duke and media).
The Blue Devils would take revenge with their famous comeback in the season finale, but the Tar Heels would win the rubber match in the ACC Championship game one week later. This game, however, is the one that makes our list for the sheer dominance that the Tar Heels unleashed on a VERY good Duke team. If only they had closed the deal in San Antonio…freakin’ Utah.