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How did the Duke game get away from North Carolina?

Feb 9, 2012, 9:16 AM EST

source: Getty ImagesAustin Rivers delivered for Duke when it mattered most. His buzzer-beating 3-pointer over 7-foot Tyler Zeller will be one of the season’s signature moments and an incredible cap to the game’s greatest rivalries. This sequence shows it all.

But how did it get to that point?

How did North Carolina, which had controlled so much of the second half, blow a 10-point lead in just over two minutes, at home? How is it possible?

The Heels led by 10 points until Duke’s Tyler Thornton hit a 3-pointer to make it 82-75 with 2:09 remaining to play. To that point, UNC had been on cruise control, using Tyler Zeller for points in the pain and getting jumper after jumper from Harrison Barnes. But Duke never went away.

“They’re really good and they can knock you out,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “And we didn’t get knocked out. And as a result, we hung in there and we won the last round. I’m not sure we won the whole fight, but the last round, we did, and we won the game. But we fought the entire time. We fought a really good fight.”

No kidding. According to this win probability chart on kenpom.com, the Heels had a 90 percent chance of winning the game after Thornton’s 3. It never got below 75 percent until Rivers hit his 3. The odds were in the home team’s favor for that long.

But maybe you prefer a play-by-play recap. For that, let’s turn to Andy Staples of SI.com:

Minutes earlier, none of this seemed possible. North Carolina led by 10 when Harrison Barnes scored with 2:35 to play. The following five things had to happen to set up Rivers’ rainbow.

  • North Carolina had to miss two of its final four free throws.
  • Tyler Thornton, who had shot five three-pointers and missed all five, had to bury one from the wing.
  • Curry had to drill an off-balance three-pointer from just inside the left sideline. “I was shocked by it,” Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He was almost sitting in my lap.”
  • Duke forward Ryan Kelly had to miss a three-pointer, follow his shot and catch a ball bouncing directly to him before draining a baseline jumper.
  • North Carolina’s Zeller had to redirect a badly calibrated Kelly shot off the backboard and into the basket. How weird was the play? The ball barely even touched the net as it sailed through.

“I knew he was going to shoot a 3,” Barnes said. “I thought everyone in the gym knew. Z did a good job of contesting, but he made the shot.”

Did he ever. It created an “Oh my God!” moment that had the Devils reveling and the Heels hanging their heads.

“When the ball went through, it kind of took me a second to process it – to realize that we had lost the game,’’ Kendall Marshall told Robbi Pickeral. “I was stunned.”

Now things get even more interesting in the ACC. The Heels (20-4), Devils (20-4) and Florida State (16-7) are all tied atop the standings at 7-2. The ‘Noles have beaten both teams once, while Duke’s other loss was to Miami. With seven conference games remaining, it’s wide open. The Heels seemed to have the edge.

But now Duke’s remaining schedule is the most favorable. (A trip to VirginiaFlorida State and home against UNC are the biggest obstacles.) The Heels may have blown it. And that stings.

“It really hurts just because of how we played the whole game,” John Henson said. “For us in the last three minutes just to give it up like that is really depressing.”

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

  1. imwhitewolf - Feb 9, 2012 at 12:08 PM

    It was an awesome game. The guys on Duke never quit. However, the game reinforced what is wrong with the Blue Devils this year. UNC crushed them on the boards, their free throw shooting was absymal, and they don’t play defense. As much as I love the Blue Devils they can not expect to consistently win games against elite teams, i.e, UK, Oh. St.,’Cuse, or even UNC if they need to rely solely on the three point shot.
    That said, hell of a shot, Austin Rivers!!!!!!! It may not be quite the Lattner shot against Kentucky but we’ll be seeing this shot for years to come.

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