Carolina-Duke always lives up to the hype, even when there isn't much

From ESPN - February 8, 2018

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- In the days leading up to the 246th meeting of Duke and North Carolina, a lot of people tried to convince us that this was just another game. They really did.

During a lovely game-day drive across the Piedmont Region of North Carolina, every local sports talk radio show that fuzzed in and out of reception between Charlotte and the Triangle said, well, you know, this is just the February warm-up game. These are two teams merely in the process of getting ready for March. These arent classic rosters for either team. There are too many freshmen. Duke is good in the paint and Carolina is good at guard, and thats backward. Duke just lost to St. Johns! Carolina has lost three out of its past four!

The Hall of Fame coach at the end of each bench spent his weekly media conference pleasantly, almost sentimentally, speaking of the contest. There was no grumpiness, only graciousness. Even when Roy Williams seemed to try to bait Mike Krzyzewski into a discussion over the ownership of brotherhood as a team mantra, K took the high road. Yawn. The closest the region came to any pregame rancor was when the neighboring towns visitors centers threw down a bet on the contest via Twitter on Thursday afternoon. The loser would be forced to write a poem about how nice the other town is. Yes, a poem.

It feels flat, right? UNC student James Broxton said one hour before the gates opened, standing with classmates in a line that ran more than a half mile from the back doors of the Dean Smith Center. My roommates said, 'Hey, we are barely hanging onto the top 25.' Really? Are we that spoiled around here? I hope when we get into the building, the energy is better than this.

It all almost worked. Almost. But by the time the final buzzer rang over UNCs 82-78 comeback victory, college basketballs greatest rivalry had erased any lingering feelings of meh.

To Mr. Broxtons relief, the energy in the building was better right from the opening tip. By the way, that tip had to be held off for a few seconds. Why? Because the guy operating the arena lights got so worked up during the playing of Jump Around that he didnt stop soon enough. As everyone paused for the illumination grid to refire, Williams looked at the table and said, Really?

February and freshmen be damned, the first half played like a video game, dominated by a particularly thrilling stretch that started five minutes into the matchup. It was sparked by a tomahawk slam from Dukes Trevon Duval (a freshman) and ended with an equally thrilling lane drive by Gary Trent Jr. (also a freshman). During the three-and-a-half minutes in between, the teams traded four 3-pointers, a baby hook, a baseline reverse layup and a steal-fed court-length outlet pass that led to a shoulda-been dunk that became a layup. When play finally was stopped for a timeout, the score was tied 23-23.

Defense appears to be optional! a Carolina Blue-clad season-ticket holder turned and shouted toward press row. Which one of yall wrote that this game was going to suck?!

At one stretch, Duke scored on 10 consecutive shots and extended its lead to a dozen. At the half, the lead was four. It felt like a lot more.


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