The staff here at Keeping It Heel got together to look back on 2012 and celebrate the top contributors to the athletic program at the great University of North Carolina. Today we will celebrate the greatest achievements in the year that is now behind us and honor those who helped make it memorable. Here we’ll look at our choice for the game of the year, the Tar Heels victory over arch rival Duke in Durham to win the ACC regular season championship. Be sure to check back later for the rest of the series where we honor the female & male athlete of the year, the coach of the year,play of the year, team of the year and even the professional alumni of the year. To view portions of this series published so far click HERE.
UNC-Duke is the biggest rivalry in college sports, in fact it might be the biggest rivalry in all of sports. Sure the Red Sox and Yankees hate one another, they also play each other about a million times per season in a sport with 162 games per season making it impossible for the atmosphere in those games to touch what Tar Heels vs Blue Devils produce when these two teams square off against one another.
The Heels lost in heartbreaking fashion earlier in the year when Austin Rivers nailed a three pointer with Duke down two at the buzzer to stun Carolina in front of the home crowd at the Dean Smith Center. This game was about revenge, pride and most importantly it was about winning the ACC regular season championship.
UNC got off to a big lead up 22-5 in the early going behind the hot starts of Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes the Heels dominated inside and controlled the glass early. Defensively they did a nice job of defending Duke’s three point shot, the Blue Devils started just 2-10 from beyond the arc. With a eye popping 29-10 advantage on the boards and holding Duke to just 27% shooting the Heels took a 48-24 lead into halftime.
The Tar Heels survived Duke’s initial run and showed the toughness and patience needed in big games. Still, visions of the last collapse haunted my mind, with 11+ minutes left, anything can still happen I thought. Carolina needs to keep the pedal on the medal, is this the knockout I’ve been calling for? After a Duke timeout, the Blue Devils went on a 12-3 run and brought the lead all the way down to 14. Austin Rivers and Seth Curry started knocking down those open jumpers and the interior defense of Carolina disappeared. Zeller’s foul trouble opened things up inside for Mason Plumlee and suddenly the game looked within reach for Duke.
UNCs biggest test of the season was staring them in the face. The “Cameron Crazies” were going nuts, the Blue Devils were played inspired basketball, it’s time to toughen up. The final seven minutes promised to be eventful. Harrison Barnes started the half quiet then after hitting his first FG of the half, he picked up his fourth foul on a Seth Curry three. Then Tyler Zeller picked up his fourth on a stupid over the back foul, suddenly Carolina was on it’s Heels with six minutes remaining in the game.
The half court game favored Duke as Carolinas transition game was eliminated. This one turned into an absolute nail bitter as the Blue Devils narrowly missed a couple opportunities to take the lead into single digits. Kendall Marshall hit several key shots and was brilliant in every way offensively throughout this entire game for Carolina. With Barnes and Zeller out with foul trouble, it was Marshall who took the offense on his back.
The game concluded with one final stand by North Carolina. Marshall hit a couple shots and then Barnes knocked down a transition three and opened the lead back up to 18 with two minutes left. Carolina showed toughness and proved to the nation they were the best team in the ACC. Best of all, they avenged that ugly loss to Duke earlier in the season.