Jayson Tatum, Kennedy Meeks join Duke-Carolina lore

Duke freshmans thunderous dunk becomes a part of the rivalrys archive

Mark Dolejs—X02835
Feb 9

Everyone has a hype video for the Duke-Carolina game, which makes sense. A rivalry that has produced a lifetime of highlights just begs to have the top moments edited together.The players enjoy watching them just as much as the fans.”We were just watching the game in the locker room from 2011, when Duke beat us at Duke,” Justin Jackson said, two days before his Tar Heels and the Blue Devils added another chapter and a few more reels of film to the library. “So, it’s all over the place. If you’re watching ESPN, ESPN2, there’s our rivalry game. It’s all around you.”That can add a bit more pressure to what’s already a tense moment. It’s a rivalry game, in front of a loud, often hostile crowd, against the team a player most wants to beat. Then there’s also the weight of history—everyone on the court is one play away from getting added to the highlight mix, preserved for eternity, for better or worse.There’s Stackhouse dunking and then taking a monster walk around Cameron. There’s Capel’s buzzer beater, Brickey’s dunk, Montross shooting free throws while dripping blood. Henderson and Hansbrough. Austin Rivers.”It’s great to see things like that,” Jackson said. “As a human, you want to see yourself and have people talk about you.”Duke freshman Jayson Tatum had seen all the hype videos and highlight films.”You grow up watching this game all the time on TV,” he said. “To be 18 and playing in the game was incredible.”At halftime of Duke’s 86-78 win over North Carolina, however, Jayson Tatum was as far as a player could be from the all-time highlight reel.Thirteen players had more points than the Duke freshman, who was scoreless after missing all three of his first-half shots.Tatum had been content to set up his teammates, leading both teams with four assists at halftime.”I probably was nervous. I’m not going to lie,” the freshman admitted. “UNC-Duke game, lot of expectations and hype, so I was definitely nervous in the first half.”That’s why, with all the Xs and Os on both sides, the biggest adjustment that was made in Thursday’s game was to Tatum’s psyche.”My teammates helped me in the locker room,” he said. “They gave me confidence. And the coaches challenged me to be better in the second half.”The Duke locker room has been the scene of plenty of paint-peeling diatribes over the years, but the message to Tatum was a positive one.”Just that we need him,” Grayson Allen said. “It’s plain and simple that we need him and he knows that.”The message didn’t sink in right away in terms of on-court production. Tatum’s attitude may have been different, but he was slow to put the lesson into practice.”I just came out there & tried to play free & have fun. Just play hard with the guys,” he said.Tatum’s first shot of the second half was a three-pointer, and a miss. Of his four shots in the game, three had been from long range.During a dead ball, coach Mike Krzyzewski lit a fire under him.”Coach was challenging me to attack the rim strong,” Tatum said.With just over 16 minutes remaining on the clock, Tatum had his moment.”We thought that he was going to have a good matchup out there on the perimeter, especially with his height and his quickness and his skill level,” Allen said. “We just wanted to keep kicking it to him and keep feeding him and have him make a play.”Tatum got the ball on the left wing. He cocked his arms in preparation for another three-pointer. North Carolina’s Theo Pinson came flying at him, and Tatum pump faked, then put the ball on the floor.He blew past Pinson with a dribble, dribbled again to avoid a swiping steal attempt from Joel Berry II on his left, and then…Then Tatum had a clear path to the basket, and hype video immortality.Tatum took a step and elevated. Senior Kennedy Meeks left his man and jumped to meet Tatum at the rim, thus sealing his fate and linking himself to the freshman forever.The came together at the rim and became a part of the rivalry’s lore.Tatum threw down the dunk, over Meeks. Cameron Indoor Stadium erupted with rafter-shaking reaction from the fans. Social media exploded. Replays and Gifs were seemingly available instantaneously.In any other game, people would say that Tatum posterized Meeks. But this was Duke-Carolina. Posters are merely paper. Rivalry moments last forever.Carolina and Duke play again on March 4. In the week leading up to it, Tatum will be everywhere, leaping and cocking his right arm. Meeks will be there too, leaving his man to help out. Raising his arms in a doomed effort to defend the rim.The Tar Heels and Blue Devils may meet in the ACC Tournament a week later. There won’t be as much time for hype, but Tatum and Meeks will be a part of whatever abbreviated ramp up for that game.Next year, in mid-February, everyone will roll out their videos again. We’ll watch Stackhouse and Rivers, Capel and Montross, just like always.And we’ll watch Tatum and Meeks.Tatum went on to score 19 points in the game, helping to lift the Blue Devils to victory.”Jayson in the second half was lights out,” Krzyzewski said. “Again, it’s a freshman being in a game like this. You can get knocked back and they can knock you back.””I got my opportunity,” Tatum said. “And I fed off that. My team did too.”