On March 3rd, 1984, three of the following players played their last games in Carmichael Auditorium: a future UNC coach, a 1st-team All-American and top 10 all-time Tar Heel, and the National Player of the Year and future BEST BASKETBALL PLAYER OF ALL TIME. Throw in the chance to be the first Tar Heel squad to go 14-0 in the ACC and to be facing off against an up-and-coming Blue Devil squad with an up-and-coming coach out for blood? That makes for one heckuva Senior Night for Sam Perkins, Matt Doherty, and Cecil Exum. Not a bad farewell for a fella named Michael Jordan either.
The 1984 Tar Heels are widely regarded as the best Tar Heel squad to not win a National Championship. Led by All-Americans Michael Jordan and Sam Perkins, the Tar Heels ripped through their regular season competition, winning their first 21 games and coming into the season finale 25-1, their only loss being a one-point defeat to Arkansas. The Tar Heels had played their last 8 games without freshman point guard Kenny Smith, who had gone down with a broken wrist on a filthy play against LSU in late January. Nonetheless, the Tar Heels were still ranked either #1 or #2 in the country (depending on the poll) and were heavy favorites to cut down the nets in Seattle.
The Blue Devils were a young team on the rise: Under young Mike Krzyzewski, Duke had struggled, particularly in 1982 and 83 when they had a pair of dismal 10-17 and 11-17 seasons. But 1984 was different: Led by the sophomore core of Johnny Dawkins, Mark Alarie, Jay Bilas, and Dave Henderson, the Blue Devils had come on strong, reaching the Top 25 and playing solid basketball down the stretch, particularly on the road. They came into Chapel Hill as the #15 team in the country.
The previous matchup in Cameron had been a frustrating night for Duke: They had led late in the game against the top-ranked Tar Heels, but had let it slip away for a 78-73 defeat. During UNC’s late surge, Dean Smith had attempted to make a substitution and, when the clock operator hadn’t stopped the clock, he had slapped the control board in frustration, accidentally messing up the scoreboard. No technical was called and Coach K was livid after the game, decrying the “double standard” in the ACC (the kind he himself would later enjoy). Suffice to say, the young Blue Devils were yearning to pick up that elusive win over the Heels.
The return match in Chapel Hill was a classic: No team held a lead greater than five points in regulation. The Tar Heels struggled a bit in the early going, Michael Jordan going just 3-11 in the first half. But the real battle was taking place on the frontline, where Mark Alarie held his own against Perkins and Brad Daugherty: Alarie had 15 points at the half, while Perkins and Daugherty had 12 and 10 respectively. Duke’s ball movement really hurt UNC, and they were able to find good shots against UNC’s pursuit defense. Nonetheless, Carolina led 41-40 at intermission.
Things only got more intense in the second half. Neither team could get any space from the other and many players were called on to step up. None more than Steve Hale who, with Kenny Smith out, had taken over starting point guard duties. Smith would play that night, but only limited minutes. Hale, the primary guard on the night, dished out a career high 13 assists while also helping to hound Johnny Dawkins into 9 turnovers.
Despite Hale’s heroics and a resurgent Jordan in the second half, Duke took a two-point lead on Mark Alarie’s three-point play with 20 seconds left. Jordan was double-teamed on the ensuing possession and Hale missed a baseline jumper to tie, but Brad Daugherty was whistled away from the ball for a foul on Duke’s Danny Meagher. It was a blessing: Meagher was Duke’s worst foul shooter and Duke was in the one-and-one. He missed the front end and UNC rebounded. They had seven seconds to go the length of the floor.
Hit 34:50 for the play:
Dean Smith drew up a play for Jordan but he was guarded well on the wing by Dawkins. Matt Doherty got the inbounds pass and took it upcourt; seeing Jordan covered, he took it into the lane and fired up and off balance jumper over Meagher as time expired. 73-73. Overtime. Matt Doherty has taken an awful lot of flak (much of it deserved) for his three-year tenure as head coach, but let’s give credit where credit is due: the guy hit a bleepin’ buzzer beater on his Senior Night! Onions.
The first OT was another back and forth battle. The Heels took a two-point lead on a Perkins bucket with 30 seconds left, but Johnny Dawkins hit a ridiculous up-and-under floater with 8 seconds left to tie it up again at 79 apiece. Jordan’s game-winning attempt was off (WAY off) and it went second OT.
In the second overtime, UNC finally seized control. Jordan hit a ridiculous alley-oop tip in over Jay Bilas plus the foul, then Sam Perkins took over. Big Smooth made three straight baskets, the last of them a dunk off a sweet dish from Jordan, after which he bumped into Bilas and barked in his face (It’s funny, you never hear Jay talk about that second overtime while commentating...). UNC salted the rest of the game away at the line and the final score, nowhere near indicative of the kind of game it had been, was 96-83.
Jordan and Perkins both finished with 25 points. Perkins also added 12 rebounds and went 8-10 from the field. Daugherty added 16 points and Doherty 12. For Duke, Alarie led all scorers with 28 and Dawkins, despite his turnover woes, had 25. UNC finished the regular season 26-1 and 14-0 in the ACC, winning the conference by five games(!!!), while Duke went to 22-8 (7-7 ACC).
The Blue Devils would finally get revenge in the ACC Semifinals, the most important non-NCAA tournament win of Coach K’s career. However, Senior Night (or in MJ’s case Junior Night) was about Chapel Hill bidding farewell to Jordan and Perkins, the greatest 1-2 punch in UNC History, and doing so in dramatic fashion.