|Last night certainly had to be one of the five best games in Duke-UNC history. (AP)|
By Matt Norlander
As Duke was improbably bombing its way back into the game against North Carolina Wednesday night, I suddenly, near the very end, remembered how I'd seen this show before. Eleven years ago, Duke erased a 12-point deficit in less than a minute at the end of regulation in Maryland's Cole Field House. Duke won 98-96 in overtime. It's become one of the five biggest games in Blue Devils lore. It's definitely the most memorable Duke game from that season. By the way, the Blue Devils won it all that year. It might take you a second or two or five to remember the team they beat in the national title game.
But you remember the Maryland game instantly.
I think we'll remember Duke 85, North Carolina 84 instantly 11 years from now as well.
Wednesday night, Duke swiped away a 10-point Carolina lead in the final 2:15. And unlike the Maryland game, this one didn't need overtime. Unlike the Maryland game, this one had the best ending a basketball game can get: a do-or-die shot that falls true with not a millisecond remaining on the scoreboard. Was it better? Which game was better? I don't know, and don't care much to debate that. I'd have to re-watch the Duke-Maryland game (which can be done on ESPN Classic tonight at 8 p.m., by the way) to get a true sense.
|Boozer and Krzyzewski in 2001 at Cole Field House. (AP)|
Instead, let's debate the comebacks. Which tops the other? Duke had more time to kill off the lead against its hated rival, and is considered the inferior team. In the Maryland game, against its faux rival, both teams were good, but Duke was seen as superior. Maryland still hadn't slayed that dragon yet. In fact, in retrospect, it's interesting to see Maryland lose that game. It's like the Jordan Bulls continuing to lose to the Pistons before getting over the hump. Maryland won the '02 title, you'll recall.
The most impressive aspect to the '01 game was the fact Duke didn't have any timeouts. Watch the video below. Interesting to hear the crowd cheer when the PA announcer says, "We have one minute play," the Maryland fans in attendance blissfully ignorant of imminently being first-hand witnesses to Terp brutality and ACC history.
Once Jay (back then, "Jason") Williams sinks a twisting layup, Mike Patrick says, "They need a miracle." And they get it. Drew Nicholas botches two free throws, and even when Duke's five points and 45 seconds away from sending the game to an extra session, Patrick and Brad Daugherty seem to know what's going to happen before it happens. Eerie to listen to them know yet not know at all what's around the corner.
That wasn't the feeling you got last night. Last night's comeback seemed to shrink from 10 points to 3 on that last possession, when after Zeller missed the free throw, we all realized, Hey, Duke can win this thing right now. That's when Dick Vitale and Dan Shulman, as Austin Rivers was bringing the ball up the floor, had their premonition.
To me, last night trumps '01, and here's why: Rivers hit the first true, game-winning buzzer-beater in the history of North Carolina-Duke. That's weighty and really, quite surprising. Williams, who had a game-high 25 -- eight coming in the final minute -- in the Miracle Minute, even said last night's game might top what he and Carlos Boozer and Shane Battier and the rest of the Devils did in Cole Field House.
Last night's game also had a play you almost never see, that accidental tip-in by Tyler Zeller that gave Ryan Kelly's errant 3 ... two points, since it wasn't going to fall through the hoop. There is also a twinge of controversy to Duke's comeback, as Seth Curry hit a 24-foot shot with 1:47 to go. The problem? He clear-as-day traveled before releasing the ball. Officials didn't pick it up, as his momentum and natural shooting motion seemed to play tricks on the stripes as they ran up the floor during a transition offensive play. The butterfly effect was in play.
In the Maryland game, Duke never lost the lead in overtime. They carried the momentum into the extra session and
finished off the game with plays you never see in highlights these days. But Duke was expected to win that game. Against Carolina, most expected UNC to win by double digits. Duke was coming off a miserable home loss to Miami. It was out of flow and without direction.
But then punky frosh Austin Rivers capped off a comeback, hitting his team's 13th 3-pointer with one of the biggest daggers this rivalry will ever know. If it doesn't get bigger than Duke-Carolina, than how can last night's double-digit comeback on the road not eclipse the Miracle Minute? Wednesday night's game doesn't have the flashy nickname or unprecedented packed-in run of points, but it does have the better highlight. Watch both videos and give me your vote.