Underdogs Have Provided Excitement in UNC-Duke Rivalry

The cliche has often been that you can “throw out the records” when two teams meet in a sporting event. This should be pretty obvious: Why would any team enter a sporting event and simply roll over?  However, in the case of the North Carolina-Duke basketball rivalry, some of the most memorable moments have come when one team appeared superior to the other.

A moment that will forever live in Tar Heel lore is the March 2, 1974 contest.  North Carolina entered that contest ranked fourth in the nation, while Duke was en route to a 10-16 finish.  However, the Blue Devils led by eight points with seventeen seconds remaining.  With all hope seemingly gone, UNC pieced together one of the most dramatic comebacks in the sport’s history, tying the game on a Walter Davis half-court bank shot to force overtime, where the Tar Heels won 96-92.  Duke had revenge the following year, upsetting the #5 Tar Heels 99-96 in overtime in a Big Four Tournament matchup between the rivals, but that game has been largely forgotten due to “Eight Points in Seventeen Seconds.”

After Mike Krzyzewski’s arrival at Duke, perceived mismatches between the two teams decreased significantly.  Nonetheless, some of the rivalry’s best recent highlights have come in games where one of the two national powers was unranked.

Some of the series’ most-played highlights came from a game between #2 North Carolina and unranked Duke on February 2, 1995. There was Jerry Stackhouse’s reverse dunk over Cherokee Parks while being fouled, complete with Stackhouse strutting downcourt afterwards and Dick Vitale going nuts. There was an overtime period ending in Jeff Capel’s 37-foot running jumper that forced a second overtime.  Ultimately, there was a 102-100 victory in the Tar Heels’ favor, but not before becoming one of the rivalry’s most memorable contests.

The following year, an unranked Duke led by as many as 17 points against #8 North Carolina, including an 11 point lead with 8:44 remaining in the second half.  The Tar Heels rallied back to make it a one-point game in the closing seconds, when Dante Calabria tipped in a Zwikker blocked shot attempt to give North Carolina a 73-72 win.

In 2000, it was the Tar Heels’ turn to enter the game unranked.  Again, Duke built a large margin, leading by as many as 19 points during the second half. And, again, North Carolina erased the deficit, forcing overtime when Joseph Forte knocked down a three-pointer with 5.2 seconds remaining. Duke held on for a 90-86 win, led by seven points in overtime by Carlos Boozer.

March 9, 2003 was an occasion where the unranked team (North Carolina) sealed the victory for a change.  However, browsing YouTube won’t find you highlights of Rashad McCants’ 26 points or Dahntay Jones’ 30-footer that would have forced overtime had it not come after the buzzer.  You will instead be able to find footage of a scuffle that broke out after Jones inadvertently bloodied Raymond Felton while battling for a rebound.

The most recent contests featuring an unranked North Carolina came in 2010, when the Blue Devils dominated the Tar Heels twice.  Duke, the eventual national champions, defeated NIT-bound North Carolina 64-54 in Chapel Hill in February before completely dismantling and embarrassing the Tar Heels 82-50 in March at Cameron.

The odds are decidedly not in North Carolina’s favor, if history is any indication.  Unranked teams facing ranked teams in the rivalry have only won 16 out of 80 contests.  However, history has also shown that the underdogs in this rivalry can put a good scare into their opposition and put themselves in position for the upset.

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