The rivalry between Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is arguably the most storied in all of sports. Both of these teams have bred iconic superstars such as Michael Jordan, Grant Hill and Christian Laettner. A new superstar may have been added to this list following the performance that Duke freshman point guard Tyus Jones put on this past week. Jones has had to perform in the shadow of another Duke freshman, Jahlil Okafor, who is predicted by many to be the first pick of the 2015 NBA draft. However, Jones scored 22 points and led Duke back up from a seven-point deficit with under 90 seconds to play. Duke forced overtime and went on to win 92-90 for yet another “W” in the famed Cameron Indoor Stadium against their longtime rivals.
The Tobacco Road Rivalry features two universities that are separated by just 10.5 miles. UNC leads the all-time series 133-106. Over the last 88 meetings, the teams have split 44 each in victories, and Duke owns the point differential by a mere eight points. Their 239 matchups have seen some of the greatest coaches in the history of college basketball go head-to-head.
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who grabbed his 1,000th career victory earlier this year, has been the face of the Duke program since 1980. Current UNC head coach Roy Williams is 10-14 against Coach K in this rivalry. The late UNC head coach Dean Smith, who passed away earlier this month, had been the icon of Carolina from 1961-1997 and retired with 879 career victories.
The first 2015 meeting was one for the ages. The Duke Blue Devils were behind for most of the game as UNC took a 49-42 lead into halftime. But the No. 4 ranked Blue Devils fought back behind big performances from three big time freshmen. Jones, Okafor and Justise Winslow combined for 50 of the team’s 92 points. Senior guard Quinn Cook also added 22 points to lead the Blue Devils to a surprising second half comeback. The Tar Heels had five players in double figures but only got five points from Preseason Player of the Year candidate Marcus Paige. Paige was 2-11 from the floor and also missed a shot at the end of regulation that could have sent UNC home with a victory.
Down 79-72 with under 90 seconds to go, Jones drove to the basket and finished a tough layup in the lane to cut the UNC lead down to five. After a sloppy final minute with both teams turning the ball over and a few UNC missed free throws, Jones drove into the paint untouched and scored to tie the game at 81-81. UNC guard Marcus Paige got a good look at a game winning shot but couldn’t convert, sending the game into overtime with the momentum in the hands of the Blue Devils.
A back and forth overtime saw Okafor physically overpower the smaller UNC defenders and finish an easy layup with 1:44 left to play. Duke would never surrender the lead from that point on, as they only gave up one more point to the Tar Heels in the final two minutes of overtime. This was a stunning comeback for Duke, which trailed behind almost the entire game.
No. 4 Duke is now 24-3 and is firmly in the mix for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The North Carolina Tar Heels, who are now 19-8 on the season, are in a dogfight for a No. 3 seed in the tournament. Okafor has clearly asserted himself as a worthy candidate for player of the year, but the most valuable player for this Duke team may very well be Jones. Jones has scored 22 points in games against then-No. 2 Wisconsin, Pittsburgh, at St. Johns in Coach K’s 1,000th win and against North Carolina. Jones has been poised with the basketball and has been dominant in clutch situations.
Duke and North Carolina will meet again March 7 in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels will look to avenge their recent loss against Duke in what is now one of the most anticipated matchups left on the college basketball schedule. This game is the last of the regular season for both teams and they will likely be fighting for ACC supremacy. Look for both of these teams to be in the running to raise yet another NCAA championship banner to their respective rafter.