DURHAM, N.C. – North Carolina ignored all the attention surrounding the final home game for retiring Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski, as well as the fourth-ranked Duke’s emotionally charged, rowdier-than-usual crowd.
Instead, the rival Tar Heels walked into Cameron Indoor Stadium and fearlessly spoiled Coach K’s perfect send-off to the postseason.
Armando Bacot scored 23 points and the Tar Heels shot 59% after halftime to upset the Blue Devils 94-81 on Saturday night, a major reversal from a blowout loss in the first meeting that raised questions about UNC’s ability to compete against the nation’s top teams.
First-year coach Hubert Davis had shrugged off the “pageantry” from Krzyzewski’s final home game, saying the team needed to tune out all the extra emotion and do one thing: compete.
“All week, we just talked about our competitive fight,” Davis said, “that we had to do three things: We had to plant our feet, we had to stand our ground and we had to fight. … I just felt like, as the game went on, we started to just gain more and more confidence.”
In the final minutes, the Tar Heels (23-8, 15-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) were stretching the lead to double figures, hitting clinching free throws and leaving the “Cameron Crazies” in disbelief that Krzyzewski’s final home game after 42 years at the helm of Duke would end this way.
The day had begun with more than 90 former Blue Devils players joining Krzyzewski on the court for a pregame photo and the coach with 1,196 career victories and five NCAA championships. There were also celebrities like comedian Jerry Seinfeld and NBA commissioner Adam Silver in attendance at a game where tickets rocketed into four- and five-figure costs.
The emotions were too much for even the most veteran of coaches.
“I didn’t think I’d cry,” Krzyzewski said. “But I did. But that’s all right, it’s all right.”
He paused, then added with a chuckle: “I’m glad this is over.”
Krzyzewski had tried all season to deflect questions about his looming retirement – even eschewing the use of the word “last” – and trying to avoid being a distraction or creating additional pressure on his team. That began to change more in recent days as the moment drew near for a coach who has long taken a live-in-the-moment approach.
The Blue Devils (26-5, 16-4) still felt that pressure.
“It was a big moment, actually a huge moment this week,” Wendell Moore Jr. said. “I felt like we kind of got lost in everything.”
Freshman Paolo Banchero scored 23 points for the Blue Devils, who shot just 42% after halftime as the Tar Heels took over. But Krzyzewski was particularly frustrated by his team’s play at the other end.
“They didn’t talk at all on defense,” he said. “That’s why the second half, our defense was just horrible.”
When the horn sounded, the Tar Heels mobbed each other to celebrate on the court, while Caleb Love – who overcame an 0-for-8 shooting start to score 15 of his 22 points after halftime – jawed at the Crazies.
It also included Krzyzewski taking the microphone to address the still-full arena before the school’s postgame ceremony in his honor.
“I’m sorry about his afternoon,” he said, calling the performance “unacceptable.”
It marked the first time an unranked North Carolina team had beaten a top-5 Duke team in Cameron since 1990, when Davis was a sophomore guard for the Tar Heels under late Hall of Famer Dean Smith.
“We know how good of a team we are,” Bacot said. “We know at times we’ve had lapses. But we came in and we knew we were going to win the game.”
R.J. Davis added 21 points and Brady Manek 20, marking the first time in program history that the Tar Heels had four 20-point scorers in the same game.
UNC: After a season of shaky performances against top-tier competition like Kentucky and Tennessee, the Tar Heels fearlessly attacked the rim and showed a competitive fire that wasn’t apparent in last month’s 87-67 loss to the Blue Devils. By far, it is UNC’s best win this season, and represented a huge boost to its NCAA Tournament resume.
Duke: The Blue Devils had already secured the program’s first outright ACC regular-season title since 2006 and had lost just once since mid-January, falling at home on a last-second 3-pointer to Virginia. But this time, they couldn’t corral UNC’s backcourt of Love and Davis – who struggled mightily against Duke’s pressure defense in the first meeting – and couldn’t manage a response as the Tar Heels made their move in the final 6 minutes.
THE KEY SEQUENCE
UNC led by just two with 5 1/2 minutes left when they made their move, with Davis getting by Banchero for a driving layup, followed by Love penetrating to find Manek for the score to take a 79-71 lead with 3:52 left.
Manek also came through with one of his five 3-pointers at a critical moment, answering one from Moore to keep the lead at eight and maintain momentum.
Former Duke players in attendance included some of the program’s biggest names like Grant Hill, Shane Battier, J.J. Redick, Jay Williams, Danny Ferry and Christian Laettner.
They gathered to create two lines on the court – several motioning to the student section for more noise or capturing video with their cellphones – to make an aisle for Krzyzewski to walk to midcourt to join them for a group photo captured from the rafters.
With Krzyzewski fighting back tears during the national antehm and dabbing his eyes with a tissue during the final pregame huddle, associate head coach Jon Scheyer – designated as Krzyzewski’s successor next season – took a moment to pat his mentor on the right shin before the opening tip.
UNC: The Tar Heels own the No. 3 seed for the ACC Tournament in New York and open play in Thursday’s quarterfinals.
Duke: The Blue Devils hold the No. 1 seed for the ACC Tournament and also open play Thursday.