The University of North Carolina had a seemingly impossible number of blown leads and heart-breaking losses in their 14‑19 season last year. None, however, were as soul-crushing as the first game against Duke.
The Tar Heels came into the rivalry game at 10-12 and losers of two straight. For everything that had gone wrong in their season to that point, it was clear the Tar Heels were putting all their chips on a win over the Blue Devils. An inspired Carolina team led by nine at the half and withstood each Blue Devil rally through most of the second half.
“I don’t know what’s happened the whole year,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “They were Carolina tonight. They were fantastic.”
With 4:16 left and the Tar Heels leading by a game-high 13, 77-64, Duke’s leading scorer and rebounder, Vernon Carey Jr., committed an offensive foul — his fifth whistle of the game.
The rest will live on forever in hype videos and rivalry lore, right up there with Walter Davis’ buzzer‑beater, Jeff Capel’s impossible shot, bloody Montross and Henderson’s elbow.
Over the next four-plus minutes, Duke would make six of its 10 shots from the field, including 2 of 4 from three. North Carolina made one shot in five attempts. The Tar Heels didn’t put up a 3-point attempt. Duke outrebounded the Tar Heels seven to five over that span after UNC had outrebounded the Blue Devils by 11 over the rest of the game.
The most telling statistic over that final 256 seconds of regulation, however, was at the free‑throw line. Duke made six of eight. The Tar Heels hit just five free throws in 11 attempts. That included sharpshooter Andrew Platek, who missed three of four free throws in the final minute of play.
“I’m really angry and mad at myself because I let my teammates down,” Platek said. “We’re all just kind of in our own heads right now.”
Duke outscored Carolina 20-6 down the stretch, which would have put the game high up on the list of great moments in the rivalry on its own. But it was about to vault into the stratosphere.
With his team still smarting from a historic home loss to Clemson — when the Tar Heels chose not to foul in the waning seconds of regulation while leading by three, only to give up a game-tying trey and lose in overtime — Roy Williams had North Carolina intentionally foul Tre Jones while leading 84-81 with 4.4 seconds left.
Jones knocked down the first, then fired the ball at the front rim on the second. It popped high in the air, and he snagged it like a shortstop on an infield fly. He dribbled between two defenders, nearly lost the ball, recovered and put up an off-balance fadeaway jumper at the buzzer from the top of the key.
Swish. Tie game. Overtime.
The game was so epic, the comeback so amazing, that the only way overtime could top it was to do it all over again.
Duke jumped out to a five-point lead in overtime, but Carolina battled back and took its own five-point lead with 20 seconds to play.
Jones hit a jumper in heavy traffic and was fouled with 16 seconds left to cut the UNC lead to three. He missed the free throw — accidentally this time, but again, Duke got the offensive rebound. Wendell Moore hit a jumper to make it a one-point game with 12 seconds left.
Garrison Brooks turned it over for the Tar Heels and Jones drove the lane, getting fouled with 6.6 seconds left.
Again, Jones made the first free throw, tying the score. Again, he missed the second. This one bounced high off the back rim. Moore tipped it back and Jordan Goldwire corralled it near half-court. He passed it to Jones, who frantically dribbled and took a similar shot to the one at the end at regulation. This one was short, but Moore was underneath the basket and able to scoop the airball up and in for a game-winning basket — Duke’s second buzzer-beater in just over five minutes, sending one team to the heights of joy.
“The things we overcame, this game meant everything to us,” Moore said.
“I just wanted to put my name on a game like that,” said Jones, who scored 28 points. “I think I might have done that today.”
It sent the other team to the depths of despair.
“I think for all of us, it was probably the most deflating game we’ve ever had to play in our lives,” said UNC freshman Armando Bacot. “I was just on the bench like, ‘Please, it can’t happen again. It can’t happen again. Why is this happening?’ It’s just sad, terrible.”