Now that was truly unbelievable.
Duke freshman Austin Rivers just etched his name deeply into the Duke-UNC rivalry. His deep three-pointer at the buzzer (see video and analysis here) over Tyler Zeller gave Duke an amazing 85-84 win over UNC at Chapel Hill and will mean that Rivers' name will now become synonymous with one of the finest finishes this 233-game series has ever produced.
A quick list of some of the other best shots ever at the end of a game in this wonderful series:
-- Walter Davis's banked 30-footer at the buzzer that completed the "eight points in 17 seconds" comeback in 1974.
-- Chris Duhon's coast-to-coast reverse layup to beat Carolina in overtime in 2004.
-- Marvin Williams' old-fashioned three-point play in 2005 that erased the last of a nine-point Duke lead with 2:40 to go.
-- Jeff Capel's 35-footer to force a second overtime in 1995.
There are many more, of course, but Rivers just pushed his way onto a very short list. It's very hard to do what he just did. The outcome of the game ultimately turned on one shot, and Rivers knocked it down to stun the sellout crowd in Chapel Hill.
If you're a UNC fan, of course, you're thinking it never should have come to that. UNC led by 9-12 points for almost all of the second half and still had a 10-point lead (82-72) with 2:38 to go. Seth Curry traveled just before a crucial three-pointer late and Kendall Marshall had a critical turnover.
And Zeller? What a fine 39 minutes he played and what a bad final minute. He accidentally tipped in a Ryan Kelly airball for two Duke points while trying to get a rebound -- that was just unlucky. But then Zeller missed the second of two free throws with 14 seconds left to give Rivers a chance to win the game instead of tie it with a three-pointer.
And then Zeller didn't close out on Rivers and force him to drive and at least not beat the Tar Heels on the last three. It wasn't like Rivers hadn't been hitting 3s already -- he had been deadly for most of the game from out there. You can't let Rivers get off a squared-up three in that situation.
If you're a Duke fan, of course, you are jubilant -- and rightly so. Duke ended the game on a 13-2 run, on the road, and it was legit. The Blue Devils made every big shot. They kept competing and fighting when most people thought it was over.
Hey, the refs didn't call the traveling on Curry, just like UNC got the benefit of a few other calls during the game. And when the biggest moment of the game came, Rivers noticed Zeller wasn't going to come all the way out on him (after Zeller had to switch off a pick-and-roll that got Reggie Bullock out of the play) and went ahead and decided to try the "make-it-or-lose" three instead of driving and hoping to send the game into overtime. A gamble, but hey -- it ended up in what Rivers told ESPN's Erin Andrews was "the best day of my life."
One last point: I wrote a column Wednesday and made a video (you can see links to both in the blog post below this one) that Duke-UNC was the best rivalry in all of sports. I got a number of emails from college football fans in Alabama and Auburn and Ohio State and Michigan and South Carolina and Yankees and Red Sox fans and so on, all saying their own rivalry was the best.
I think we just saw another example, though, of why UNC-Duke is unsurpassed.
And guess what? They'll do it again in early March, and maybe one more time in the ACC tournament. But whatever happens the rest of the year, we just saw one of the best shots of this college basketball season -- and one of the most memorable moments of the series. Depending on which shade of blue you wear, that shot will either haunt you or dazzle you for a long, long time.
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