CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Mike Krzyzewski walked out of the tunnel and onto the court at the Dean E. Smith Center for pregame warm-ups on Saturday. It was his 36th trip into the belly of the beast and also his last one.
His presence on the court instantly ignited the crowd, a packed house that had come to say -- well, not so much farewell, but perhaps good riddance to their most hated nemesis.
It's exactly what Mike Krzyzewski was hoping for.
"I'm used to it," Krzyzewski said. "I got what I expected, and I'm always ready for it."
So, too, was his team. In mere minutes, Duke had silenced the raucous Carolina crowd, jumping to a 31-8 lead through the first 10 minutes, fending off a late charge at the end of the first half, then cruising to an 87-67 win, the fourth-largest of Krzyzewski's career in Chapel Hill.
Duke's dominance siphoned nearly all the energy from the Smith Center, and North Carolina, which has now lost four games by 20 or more, did little to reignite the fire.
What began with a chorus of boos and epithets from the rowdy UNC fans ended with a race to the exits with nearly 8 minutes still left on the clock.
"Not even getting punched first, but going out there and fighting," said A.J. Griffin, who led the Blue Devils with a season-high 27 points. "That's what I love about this team."
Krzyzewski's final season at Duke has already been filled with its share of sentimentality, from signature wins over Gonzaga and Kentucky to an emotional send-off alongside legendary coach Denny Crum at Louisville last month.
Saturday's festivities included no such emotion. There was a photo displayed before the game of Krzyzewski, coach-in-waiting Jon Scheyer, former UNC coach Roy Williams and current coach Hubert Davis, but beyond that, there were no signs that an era was ending.
On Friday night, Krzyzewski showed his team a highlight tape of epic moments in the Duke-Carolina rivalry. Due to COVID-19, none of the Blue Devils' freshmen or sophomores had experienced the intensity and energy and noise that comes from a road trip to Chapel Hill, and he wanted the team to get a feel for it. There was no reminiscing, he said. Just preparation.
When the boos came, Duke's players heard them, too. But there was no pregame huddle in which the players promised to return that energy with a blistering run of dunks and jumpers. And afterward, Wendell Moore Jr. was quick to point out that it was Miami's loss earlier in the week -- a loss that opened the door for Duke to take command of the ACC in the standings -- that was the team's primary motivator.
Even in the wake of such a dominant performance, Moore insisted there would be little more than a token celebration -- just enough for the 10-minute bus ride back to campus.
And yet, how could anyone not appreciate the magnitude of this final trip behind enemy lines for the Tar Heels' biggest villain, a man who, on Saturday, chalked up his 50th career win over UNC?
"A win in Carolina is always special, but especially with this being his last one," Moore said. "It's not like anyone said, 'We're going to do this for you,' but on the inside, we knew we wanted to do this for Coach because he really deserves it."
Instead of nostalgia and sentimentality, however, Krzyzewski stuck to his usual script. He loved the rebounding, with Duke holding a 40-24 edge and allowing Carolina just six offensive boards. He loved Griffin's skills. He'd drawn up a play to get Griffin an open look to start the second half, and the freshman ran with it, hitting the first four buckets as Duke ran its lead from 11 to 21 before UNC made a shot.
Duke shot 58% for the game, its best performance against the Heels in 25 years, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
What Krzyzewski didn't seem to care much about at all was his farewell moment in front of the most hostile of crowds.
Indeed, Moore said afterward that Duke embraced the role of villain, that the Blue Devils relish the hatred. But Krzyzewski laughed that off, wondering what book Moore was reading that allowed the word "villain" to worm its way into his conscious. Instead, Krzyzewski framed the narrative in the most mundane terms possible.
"What people think is being a villain," Krzyzewski said, "is just being prepared."
It was, perhaps, one last twist of the knife in a place that helped define his legacy. What could be a better send-off for Krzyzewski in Chapel Hill than for 21,170 Tar Heels fans to announce their hatred in unison, only for Krzyzewski to ignore it all, coach his team to a dominant win, then suggest he'd never understood he was the villain to begin with?
After all, the villain never gets the last laugh like Krzyzewski did Saturday.