We’re fast approaching the best time of year for college basketball, which would be March. From here on in, the excitement on the hardwood turns up. These are the kinds of games we’ll talk about for a long time. For this edition of “Remember When” we take a different look at one of the premier college basketball rivalries: Duke and North Carolina!
Obviously, there have been a number of memorable meetings between these two schools, separated by only 10-15 miles.
However, we’re not here to discuss one of the many incredible the meetings the two programs have had in the past 98 years. Rather, we’re focusing on the one time they didn’t play, despite anticipation of another showdown: the 1968 ACC Tournament.
When the teams first met during the regular season in early ’68, it ended with North Carolina defeating Duke, 75-72, part of a 20-game winning streak that only ended with a Feb. 28 loss to South Carolina.
Duke, meanwhile, rebounded from the loss by winning 11 of their next 13 games, losing twice to South Carolina during that stretch.
Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, the regular season title was out of reach for them when they played their rivals again March 2 in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Still, Duke took advantage and won in triple-overtime thriller — one of the most celebrated games in the rivalry’s long history.
Duke put it together that day, with Fred Lind and his 16 points leading the way in an 87-86 win. The loss didn’t knock North Carolina out of the No. 1 seed for the ACC Tournament, and Duke already had the second seed secured thanks to a win days earlier over NC State. The prospect of a rubber match loomed, however.
For the season winner to be determined, it was clear that Duke and UNC would need to face off again at the ACC Tournament, which took place in Charlotte.
UNC defeated Wake Forest in the quarterfinals but needed a little extra effort to defeat South Carolina in the semifinals. Even though it went to OT, the Tar Heels defeated the Gamecocks 82-79. They did what needed to be done and one-half of the trilogy was set.
As for Duke, the Blue Devils found themselves in a tight battle with Clemson in the quarterfinals, winning 43-40. It set them up for a meeting in the semifinals versus NC State.
It should be easy enough for the Blue Devils, right? They won both meetings in the regular season, including a matchup less than two weeks earlier. This SHOULD set up Round 3 with North Carolina. However, I feel like I’ve dropped enough breadcrumbs that this won’t end well for Duke. And folks, I’m here to tell you it didn’t.
It’s not that Duke lost, it’s more so how it lost, with the winning team only scoring 12 points. This means that yes, Duke scored just 10.
NC State went into a stall offense immediately after the opening tip. It turned into a game of patience and reached the point that a couple NC State players would go to the sideline to discuss strategy with head coach Norm Sloan.
Believe it or not, Duke had a 4-2 lead at halftime — which, coincidentally, is my dream score. Sadly, this wouldn’t last in the second half.
Early in the second half, both teams scored points and Duke led 8-6 lead.
Blue Devils Head Coach Vic Bubas had his team play zone defense as the Wolfpack held onto the ball for nearly 14 minutes. The world was amazing before the shot clock.
The game was so slow that North Carolina’s play-by-play announcer Bill Currie described it to listeners as being “about as exciting as watching artificial insemination.”
Much of the responsibility for the dribbling and stalling in the game went to NC State’s Bill Kretzer, who once said that he might have dribbled the ball more that night than at any other point in his college basketball career. Kretzer added he needed to keep moving while dribbling.
Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, it all fell apart. In the final two and a half minutes, NC State scored six points.
This loss cost Duke not only a chance to defeat Duke, but it cost them the ACC tournament title, as well as an NCAA Tournament appearance.
Bubas took responsibility for the loss after the game.
The run for NC State ended the next night with their loss to North Carolina in the championship game. UNC cruised, 87-50, and carried the banner for the ACC into the NCAA Championship Game against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s UCLA Bruins.
As was often the case in that era, UCLA won handily.
The two teams would meet three times the next season, the last taking place in the ACC title game. North Carolina won, 85-74.
Duke and North Carolina meet again this weekend for the 2017-18 regular-season finale and it wouldn’t be surprising if they faced off again in the ACC Tournament — unless an opponent can hold the Blue Devils to 10 points somewhere along the way before then.