Skip to main content
Original Issue

A Dukeout That Left Carolina Blue

After 18 losses in 18 seasons, Duke finally upended rival North Carolina in formerly unfriendly Chapel Hill

There was 8:14 remaining in last Saturday's game against Duke when North Carolina coach Dean Smith called for a time-out. There was 5:33 remaining when he called for another. A moment after that, and then a few seconds after that, Smith called for other time-outs. From a man who hates surrender as much as he hates going without cigarettes, four time-outs in quick succession in his home arena was as close to a white flag as Duke was going to get. But then Smith must have known it was all over: the streak, the jinx, maybe even the mystique of Chapel Hill's Carmichael Auditorium. All gone.

And all because a fleet greyhound of a guard named Johnny Dawkins and his smart and resourceful Blue Devil teammates exploded upon the home-standing Tar Heels, beating them 93–77 and, quicker than you can say Mike Krzyzewski (pronounced Coach K), tossing the ACC basketball race into its characteristic early-season chaos.

Actually, Duke, the No. 2-ranked team at the beginning of last week, would have been expected to pull off such a caper were it not for several extenuating circumstances: 1) North Carolina had won 22 straight regular-season ACC games; 2) Duke had lost in Chapel Hill for 18 straight seasons, and this is the last year for Carmichael—next season the Tar Heels will move into the new 21,800-seat Student Activities Center; 3) North Carolina had contrived miracle comeback upon miracle comeback in this place, one year scoring eight points in the final 17 seconds of regulation and beating Duke in overtime; and 4) the Blue Devils were reeling from a two-game losing streak—both defeats having come in OT—and Dawkins himself from a mugging by Muggsy.

But on Saturday the wiry Dawkins, 6'2" and 165 pounds, disposed of the memories of a 78–76 loss at Maryland and the image of Wake Forest's Tyrone (Muggsy) Bogues, who is 5'3" but plays smaller, nipping at his shoelaces and holding him to eight points in a 91–89 defeat. In as perfect a game as anyone could desire, Johnny D put a line for the ages on Carolina: 34 points, eight rebounds, four assists, four steals and zero turnovers in 40 minutes. "After Muggsy, I just wanted to play," said Dawkins. "Who didn't matter. Just somebody else!" And the Blue Devils exorcised the comeback spirits from Carmichael's Blue Heaven by holding the Tar Heels scoreless for eight possessions over that time-out-punctuated six-minute span in the second half.

"Watershed game? I don't know that word. Is that a Polish word?" Krzyzewski said jokingly. And that was before the game. Afterward, his impossible surname could have been mispronounced any which way—the correct way is shi-SHEF-ski or, if you are calling roll at Army, where he coached for five years before coming to Duke, "Alphabet!"—and Krzyzewski wouldn't have minded. After all, consider what he had gone through to get to this point. He'd played military ball on clay courts in Beirut, not to mention having captained on the varsity at West Point under Bob (then Bobby) Knight. He'd lost 47 games in his first three seasons at Duke, including last year's game in Chapel Hill when the Blue Devils had an in-the-bank win: Duke up by two, nine seconds left, a Blue Devil at the line for a one-and-one. Carolina ended up winning by 13 in double OT.

This time, while injury-depleted North Carolina stayed with its archrival for a half—it was 39–39 at intermission—the Tar Heels' youth and inconsistency soon sabotaged their effort. Leading 51–49 with more than 15 minutes to go, Duke scored seven straight points, five by Dawkins, who, when he wasn't hurling daggers from deep in the corners, was converting razzmatazz baskets off one or another of the Blue Devils' 14 steals or North Carolina's 17 turnovers. While Dawkins and his sprint-relay backcourt mate, Tommy Amaker, slapped away everything that went through Carolina's passing lanes—"Just keeping our hands active," said Dawkins—the Tar Heels' only real dash man, Kenny Smith, had 14 points and 10 assists but also five turnovers. Then, with the score 60–53, the Blue Devils ran off another eight straight points. Dawkins didn't score in this spurt. He didn't need to. On one occasion he pulled up on a semibreak, waited for his teammates to set their half-court offense and delivered a glorious pass to Amaker cutting backdoor. Hardly had Amaker's layup settled into the net when Smith, who many insist invented that play, immediately called his first red-faced time-out.

More embarrassment followed. "An experienced team better listen, but a young team better listen carefully," Smith, now furious, reprimanded his forces during the second time-out. On the Blue Devils' next possession, 6'8" forward Jay Bilas (17 points and 11 rebounds), who used to be a schoolmate of Tracy Austin's in Rolling Hills, Calif., outvolleyed both the 6'11" Brad Daugherty and the 6'11½" Warren Martin for a rebound, whereupon Daugherty fouled Bilas while Martin shuffled away—no màs—even before the play was whistled dead. Martin was holding his jaw as if struck by an overhead smash. Game, set and match to Duke.

Martin is called Cricket (after Jiminy) by his Tar Heel teammates, and behind now 68–53, North Carolina played like Pinocchios trying to catch up, committing 16 fouls in the final 4:38. "As long as we had the big lead, I didn't care if it never ended," said Krzyzewski.

Speculation as to how good Duke really is may not end until the Blue Devils win the ACC title or the NCAA championship, simply because the team looks more like a choir than an outfit ornery enough to dribble through a nuclear winter. For instance, both operatives in the BC from DC—Duke's backcourt of Dawkins and Amaker—are narrow, angular chaps from the Washington, D.C. area. Together they tip the scales at barely 310 pounds—ideal advertisements for the Duke rice diet. And, not only are Bilas and his fellow forward, Mark Alarie (of Scottsdale, Ariz.), Sun Belt—scrubbed and Yuppie-bred, but also both are dimpled, dazzling lookers who might have stepped from the pages of GQ to model ascots in the Sarah B. Duke Gardens. And nice guys, too, not nasties like you're supposed to have to win.

But the fighting spirit displayed by the Blue Devils Saturday was born long ago, at the start of the Duke-North Carolina rivalry in 1920. A kind of high-toned Hatfield-McCoy thing, the feud has evolved because of the proximity of the schools—they're only seven miles apart—as well as the similarities of their postcard campuses, traditions and academic standards. Moreover, although Smith has come to stand above the ACC, titanlike, he has never managed to out-class or out-image Duke, the epitome of college sophistication: Ivylike snobbery with sun and grits mixed in.

Thus, the fact that Duke upset the Tar Heels in the ACC tournament semifinals last March—at the time North Carolina was 27–1, unbeaten in the conference and No. 1 in the nation—wasn't the only reason for Smith's message to his charges at their first team meeting this fall. "Remember," he said, "always keep Duke in the backs of your minds."

Smith grew into his career with the Blue Devils as the target. In style, concept and basketball program, Duke was the original Carolina. And a Blue Devil coach, Vic Bubas, was the original Dean Smith—the first of the three-piece-suit organization men who also could round up good athletes and coach the dickens out of them. Bubas was building a dynasty in Durham with three Final Four teams in the mid-'60s, when he quit at the age of 42 to become a Duke vice-president. He's now commissioner of the burgeoning Sun Belt Conference.

And now the Blue Devils are suddenly back, the gauntlet having been retrieved by Krzyzewski, a protégé of Smith's old friend Knight. Coach K's favorite advice came from Smith's old rival, Bubas. "Know who you are," Bubas told Krzyzewski. "Don't worry about anybody else or their program [meaning Smith and Carolina]. It's irrelevant."

Well, not quite. Krzyzewski has criticized the "double standard" in the ACC, and he and Smith have had a little mad-on going since they exchanged harsh words during a postgame handshake last year.

"I don't look on it as a feud," says Krzyzewski. "I respect Dean for the competitor he is. Then again, it's not as if we get together smoke a few cigarettes."


Last week the handshakes were pleasant enough except, of course, that Duke kicked the tar out of the Heels—the 16-point margin was Carolina's worst home defeat in four years. "Duke was supposed to win the league, and now they probably will," said Smith.

"Good. I'll take that as a concession speech," said Krzyzewski.

But don't touch that dial. These guys may shake hands, and their teams may come out smoking a few more times before the season is over.