Tobacco Road Rules

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For all the hype from Mssrs. Vitale and Schulman and Erin Andrews, all of the capsule vignettes from games past, it surely didn’t look like Saturday night’s match would leave much of a mark on Tobacco Road. No, this rendition of college basketball’s most-heated rivalry wasn’t go to measure up.

Fifth-ranked Duke, which had upset UNC in their earlier meeting, was getting spanked at home by the top-ranked Tar Heels. Despite four 3-balls from Greg Paulus, the Cameron Crazies found their heroes down 11 at the half. The longer and more athletic Tar Heels were stepping out and switching like crazy on the perimeter, forcing Duke to put it on the floor and go to the basket. There, UNC was waiting, swatting Demarcus Nelson’s “senior night” hopes away. “Tenacious” Tyler Hansbrough was operating near the bucket and point guard Ty Lawson, even though still not operating at full speed on a bum ankle, was showing why he was missed dearly in Chapel Hill Feb. 6.

But Coach K must have had something profound to say because Duke turned it around after intermission. The dribble-drives and kick-outs started to work, with sixth-man John Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Gerald Henderson, son of the NBAer, keying a comeback. Hansbrough continued his inside hammering, but Duke never backed down. Amazingly, the All-American, who became the third ACCer to reach the 2,000-point plateau as a junior, never made it to his home away from home, the free-throw line. With 5:47 left Scheyer hit a reverse and the Blue Devils took the lead 68-66, as the building and analysts beamed. But the game sputtered from there if you’re a Duke devotee. Three successive trips with a chance to push the margin to four, including a wide-open lay-up, yielded nada. No one realized then the emptiness would extend for the rest of the evening. UNC dug in their Heels on D even more, remarkably shutting out Duke down stretch — the 76-68 final tally hardly reflective of the exciting, hard-fought contest.

In the process, ESPN’s second primetime game involving the No. 1 team on s Saturday night in two weeks toppled the Feb. 23 Tennessee tussle between the Volunteers and then No. 1 Memphis Tigers from the network’s Nielsen record book. Saturday night’s game in Durham drew 5.68 million viewers on average. 

Will that record fall on Sunday, if the combatants engage again in the ACC tournament finale? Not likely, givent the 1 p.m. start and other college championship action on the box. Either way, show me the rubber match when final seedings for the Big Dance will be at stake!