UNC beats Duke 81-77 to once again spoil Coach K's final season

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Saturday, April 2, 2022
UNC beats rival Duke 81-77 again in Final Four game
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UNC beats rival Duke 81-77 again in Final Four game

NEW ORLEANS (WTVD) -- The North Carolina Tar Heels once again shocked the world, beating Duke for the second consecutive time and this time ending Coach Mike Krzyzewski's coaching career.

Watch live postgame coverage in the above media player.

UNC beats rival Duke again in Final Four game (1 of 4)

In a titanic third rivalry battle, Caleb Love and North Carolina proved they could play their outside-shooting finesse attack better than Duke could play bully ball.

The first meeting in the NCAA Tournament between the longtime rivals ended with a familiar storyline from the regular-season finale, when the Tar Heels got their offense humming after halftime with 3-pointers, floor spacing and off-the-dribble drives against the Blue Devils. And they kept answering every push from the bigger and more physical Blue Devils with big-time shots - though this time, the win secured a chance to play for the national championship.

North Carolina outlasted Duke 81-77 in Saturday night's Final Four after shooting 50% and making 7 of 13 3-pointers after halftime in an iron-willed performance, one that ultimately ended the Hall of Fame career of retiring Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

When it was over, the Superdome - filled with tense Tar Heels and Blue Devils fans - erupted into a roar as UNC began an on-court celebration while the Blue Devils began to dejectedly untuck their jerseys on their way back to the bench.

And after a series of postgame interviews, Caleb Love and R.J. Davis were practically skipping off the court for the locker room.

Love shook off an 0-for-5 start to score 28 points on 11-for-20 shooting, including a monster 3-pointer with 24.8 seconds left that made it a two-possession game. Brady Manek also came through after a rough first half with 10 second-half points, including three 3s of his own.

The question entering Saturday night's game - besides whether the tension of this unplanned third meeting might be too much for the entire state of North Carolina to manage - was how Round 3 might look. The Blue Devils imposed their will in an impressive blowout road win in February, only to see the Tar Heels come through with a win in Krzyzewski's final home game at Duke.

In the end, this game ended up looking more like the latter, with the Tar Heels showing the resolve to handle every piece of adversity - an ankle injury for Armando Bacot, foul trouble, some missed late free throws and a sometimes-dominant performance from Duke freshman Paolo Banchero.

And they kept the pressure on Duke every time down the court, particularly Love with 22 points after the break.

It was the 258th meeting between the two basketball programs, but the first to ever happen during the NCAA tournament.

Plus, it happened in the 47th and final year of Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski's record-setting career, and in the first year of North Carolina head coach Hubert Davis.

The rivalry shares features with others like it across the college landscape. One that comes to mind is the Auburn-Alabama showdown in football, an annual game that sets, or resets, bragging rights throughout the state for the ensuing 365 days, and often carries with it conference and national-title implications.

Watch UNC fan reactions

UNC beats rival Duke again in Final Four game (1 of 4)

Durham said he's heard Auburn-Alabama described as "a football game that determines a culture war."

But where those schools are separated by 150 miles, and those teams play once a year, Carolina and Duke are next-door neighbors.

"They both need each other," longtime play-by-play announcer Wes Durham said. "The reason it's great is because both are so successful."

For North Carolina, this marks a record 21st trip to the Final Four. For Coach K, this is a record 13th trip to college basketball's biggest stage, which breaks a tie with UCLA legend John Wooden for most appearances by a coach.

Hard to tear down either program. That doesn't mean they don't try.