Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s distinguished career came to an exciting and sudden end on Saturday night after Caleb Love scored an important three-pointer and three late free throws to lead arch-rivals North Carolina to an exciting 81-77 win over the Blue Devils.
This was the 258th, most momentous and maybe, just maybe, the best meeting ever between these teams, whose arenas are just 11 miles apart down Tobacco Road.
Ironically, the Tar Heels (29-9) fixed 75-year-old Coach K’s 368th and final loss, exactly four weeks after they ruined the farewell party at his last home game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
That loss hurt. That stopped the coach’s dying breath, a textbook run just one win away from a title game and a shot at his sixth championship. When it was over, after completing the nip-and-tuck stretch run with no time out, Krzyzewski calmly walked to the halfcourt and shook hands with Carolina’s rookie coach Hubert Davis.
In place of Krzyzewski, who is seeking his sixth title, Carolina will be seeking his seventh on Monday. It will be Davis, Love, who led the Tar Heels with 28 points, and RJ Davis, who scored 18 points, taking on Kansas, who defeated Villanova 81-65 earlier in the undercard.
The Main Event lived up to the hype. What a game! There were 18 lead changes and 12 draws.
At about the 2-minute mark, the teams traded three 3’s in a row. Wendell Moore Jr.’s 3-pointer with 1:19 left ended the excitement and gave Duke a 74-73 lead. It was the last lead of Krzyzewski’s career.
RJ Davis came back with two free throws, then after Duke’s Mark Williams, who was in terrible trouble all night, missed a pair off the line, Carolina worked the ball around the boundary.
Tar Heels guard Leaky Black put a pickaxe – threw a block – at Trevor Keels to free Love, who lost a 3 for a four-point lead and felt like a huge respite in this instance.
Love took three more free throws down the stretch, and then it was over. Krzyzewski left the Superdome floor hand in hand with his wife Mickie.
Hubert Davis cried again, just as he did last weekend when North Carolina lost his ticket to his record-breaking 21st. Final Four punched.
“I felt like North Carolina wasn’t relevant in the last two or three years,” said Davis, who replaced the legendary Roy Williams. “North Carolina should never be irrelevant. It should take center stage and be in the spotlight.”