Cormac Ryan silences Duke

North Carolina's Cormac Ryan (3) reacts ahead of Duke's Jared McCain (0) after hitting a three-point shot during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Durham, N.C., Saturday, March. 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

As the clock ran down in UNC’s 84-79 win over Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Cormac Ryan put his finger to his lips and told the Cameron Crazies to shush.

His gesture was nearly two hours too late. On Senior Night when the Duke faithful bid farewell to Jeremy Roach, with archrival Carolina in town and the crowd hungry for revenge after a February loss in Chapel Hill, Cameron Indoor was loud and raucous early. Decibel levels hit 113 during pregame introductions.

Then Ryan got things started. A three-pointer from the right corner on a fast break gave UNC a five-point lead, two minutes into the game. Sixteen seconds later, he hit from the same spot. Just over two minutes later, Elliot Cadeau recovered a loose ball and shuffled ito Ryan, who hit another three, this time on the run. That put UNC in front 15-4.

“That was the story of the whole game for me,” said Duke coach Jon Scheyer. “They came out and got a 15-point lead (three and a half minutes after Ryan’s third three-pointer). We outscored them the rest of the game.”

“They came out & hit us first,” Scheyer added. “The last nine games, we’ve been hitting other people first.”

While Duke-Carolina games are known for furious back-and-forth action, every once in awhile, one of the rivals finds a night where everything is clicking. This was one of those. Carolina never trailed and led the game for all but 17 seconds. It was the third such game of the 2020s, and the other two were 20-plus point blowouts.

In the second half, Duke battled back, at one point, cutting the lead to one with possession of the ball. They could never get over the hump, however. And, as time ran down, Ryan was there with his trusty dagger. Twice in the final four minutes, he hit three-pointers that pushed a six-point lead to nine. He then scored the last four Tar Heel points of the game from the free throw line, finishing off a career performance of 31 points, with six three-pointers. It was the biggest outburst from a Tar Heel at Cameron—both on the scoresheet and from outside the arc—since his coach Hubert Davis scored 35 on six treys in 1992.

“That’s just who I am, man,” Ryan said afterward. “I can’t control it. I love playing in these environments. I love being in front of the fire.”

Despite his comments, it’s safe to say Cormac Ryan likes his Indoor Stadiums quiet.

Three years ago, playing for Notre Dame in an empty Cameron, thanks to COVID precautions, Ryan exploded for a then-career-high 28 points on four treys as the Irish upset the Blue Devils.

“Ryan was sensational in the first half,” then-coach Mike Krzyzewski said at the time.

Coach K was in the building again on Saturday to watch Ryan erupt and ignite another upset.

Duke head coach Jon Scheyer reacts after a foul during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against North Carolina in Durham, N.C., Saturday, March. 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

“You’ve got to not give Ryan two open threes to start the game,” Scheyer said. “Anyone would feel pretty good—you would feel pretty good if, coming into Cameron, it’s just two wide-open threes to start off. That sets the tone for the night. … So for us, we’re playing catchup the whole way. But still, we battled back despite all that. I mean, despite him having 31 and making almost every shot, we’re still – it’s a one-possession game, it’s a two-possession game.”

“It’s not the first time he had (close to) 30 in Cameron,” said Roach. “So he’s definitely comfortable out here. We made him comfortable out here. He got three threes in the first two minutes of the game, so the rest is history. His confidence was up there.”

With the Cameron crowd silenced, Ryan finished off the Blue Devils and reveled in the sound of no hands clapping.

“Peaceful as can be,” he said.