NEW YORK — 49. That is the number of wins Duke, and North Carolina have against each other in their last 98 meetings. If there ever was any doubt, this is the best and most competitive rivalry in college basketball.
Heading into the game, Duke was the underdog for two justified reasons. First, Duke has played two tough games while North Carolina breezed past their one opponent (not to mention Duke had to play Louisville “a Final Four caliber team” according to Mike Krzyzewski last round.)
Second, Duke hasn’t expanded beyond an eight-man rotation, with most their starters playing most of the minutes. Because of this, Duke headed into this game exhausted.
However, if there is anything that is certain, it is that NOTHING is certain in a rivalry game.
What. A. Game.
In a classic tale of two halves, Duke pulled out what was an improbable win against its rivals by the final score of 93-83, despite being down 42-49 at halftime.
The game and momentum swung right when North Carolina floor general Joel Berry III headed to the bench after collecting his fourth foul. Immediately after Berry’s rear hit the seat, Duke cranked out a 20-4 run, therefore eliminating North Carolina’s lead, giving themselves the lead, and giving themselves the extra motivation to continue through the rest of the game despite being exhausted.
After playing phenomenally well in the first half, North Carolina simply collapsed in the second half, much to the dismay of their coach.
“We shot 56% in the first half and 28% in the second half,” North Carolina head coach Roy Williams angrily pointed out. “Right now its best for me to stay away from my players because I’m ready to jump off the top of the building.” Safe to say Williams was little “ticked off.”
On the subject of Berry being on the bench, Williams added that “it had an effect, but that takes away from what Duke did. I really believe that. I don’t want to use any excuses.”
Williams certainly didn’t use any excuses as he blatantly stated that, “I didn’t do as good of a job as Mike did.” To his point, he simply didn’t, the unfortunate timing of substitutes weakened North Carolina throughout the second half, thus causing the 27% decrease in shooting percentage.
In step back from the actual game itself and looking at the big picture, tonight was a night to remember. Over 18,109 fans were in attendance to watch the greatest rivalry in basketball. Bluntly put, you do not get that attendance at the Barclay’s Center on a regular or even semi-regular basis.
Tonight, an empty seat was hard to spot. Tonight, the arena shook with screams and boos from both North Carolina and Duke fans. Tonight, we witnessed an exhausted team find a way to beat its rival, in the greatest game the Barclay’s Center has ever seen.
Ever since the Nets moved to Brooklyn in 2012, the Barclay’s Center has been an arena frequented by few hometown fans and spectators. As a New Yorker, I can say first hand that the main reason why my friends go to the Barclay’s Center is either because the tickets were dirt cheap or their favorite team is in town.
In saying that, you never hear a vibrant environment in the Barclay’s Center during Nets games. Crowds are quite, the quality of play isn’t entertaining, and the center itself doesn’t have the aura of a Madison Square Garden or Yankee Stadium.
Thursday night at the Barclay’s Center not only brought us the most intense matchup of the tournament, but the best game the Barclay’s Center has seen in years.
The ACC Tournament has value in Brooklyn, and the ACC can thank Duke, North Carolina, and their fans for creating a rare exciting at the ever-so-dull Barclay’s Center.