The Tar Heels remaining who witnessed last season’s senior night still speak in stunned tones about it. North Carolina adhered to its tradition of starting seniors, including walk-ons, in its final regular-season home game. Duke just didn’t care.
The Blue Devils reeled off 14 points to start the game and ended all suspense early as they cruised to a 69-53 victory in the Dean E. Smith Center.
“I just remember Duke just going off instantly, they just had a whole bunch of firepower,” Carolina senior guard Leslie McDonald said. “It was a tough experience because you wanted to end it out with a bang and Duke came out very powerful.”
The Heels would like to return the favor Saturday when they travel to Cameron Indoor Stadium. It will be the last home game for three Duke seniors -- guard Tyler Thornton, forward Josh Hairston and reserve Todd Zafirovski -- as well as guard Andre Dawkins, who is a graduate student. Who knows if it will be the last for freshman Jabari Parker. He hasn’t made a public decision on whether he’ll return for a second season or become an NBA lottery pick.
A considerable winning streak is about to come to an end. The Heels have won 12 straight games -- their longest streak since their 2009 national championship season -- after starting ACC play 1-4. Duke has the nation’s longest active home winning streak with 32 straight games. Its last loss? On senior night in 2012 to North Carolina.
The Blue Devils need the comfy confines of home to help jump-start their slumping shooting percentages. Duke was shooting 42 percent from 3-point range entering the first meeting with Carolina. Since going 5-of-22 in the loss to the Heels, Duke is shooting just 27 percent over the past four games.
Home tends to heal all wounds for the Blue Devils. According to ESPN Stats & Information, in their 16 home games this season, they’ve scored five more points per game and shot two percentage points higher (47.6) from the field.
The outcome could determine way more than bragging rights, although it won’t have any bearing on the ACC crown. It marks just the fifth time in league history neither Carolina nor Duke had at least a share of the title for two years straight.
ACC regular-season champion Virginia probably will be slotted to play in Raleigh, N.C., for the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament. Early projections, including that from ESPN's Joe Lunardi, have Duke opening in Raleigh as a No. 2 seed. The Blue Devils need to win to ensure they stay in that slot. Should Carolina complete the sweep, it could allow the Heels to stay closer to home.
It just adds to the list of reasons why this rivalry doesn't take any games off.