In restaurants, pumping gas, buying Powerball tickets — the talk, the gear, the feeling is all there.
Tonight it’s Duke/Carolina, and bragging rights are on the line.
Will the Blue Devils shoot down the Tar Heels from long range again? Will Tyler Hansbrough have another big game against the Dukies? Will any of us be left standing when it’s done? Will half of us show up for church in the morning and at work on Monday?
Here we go, a running diary of the big game.
ESPN has been running a countdown clock on tipoff the entire game, which coincides with the nerves I’ve been facing since yesterday. I’m a wreck, and I haven’t been in college for 10 years.
But the ACC Championship is on the line, and the only way for Carolina to get it is by beating Duke in Cameron. There can’t be enough hype for this one.
(A side note: I don’t want anybody to get the idea that I’m overlooking the tragic loss of Eve Carson this week. I get sick to my stomach thinking about her senseless murder. I know this is in reality just a game and that there are far more important things going on in this world, but it is indeed a welcome diversion.)
Just before tipoff
Everybody in Cameron is wearing a Carolina blue ribbon to honor Carson. What a classy move by Duke.
20:00 AAAARRRRRGGGGHHHHHH! Quentin Thomas is starting in place of Ty Lawson, who should play. Just how much and how effectively is still up in the air.
15:52 A good — no, great — start by the Heels, who promptly gave up a 3-pointer to start the game, then started switching on screens and contesting shots. UNC is on a 10-2 run to take a 10-5 lead, but have needed three blocked shots near the rim to get there. That’s great for Heels’ fans, but also disconcerting. Duke’s getting penetration.
11:52 Danny Green, who was horrible against Duke a month ago, sinks a 3 to snap a 2-minute drought for the Heels, who lead 13-9.
Duke is a little quick with its shots, but the Devils are starting to get better looks. They made 13 3s against Carolina last month, and one has to think they can get close to that again tonight. There is some small foul trouble early for Duke, much of it drawn by Hansbrough, who hasn’t done much else offensively yet.
8:10 Green has eight points in a 10-0 Heels run. Duke is without a field goal for more than 6 minutes as UNC takes a 24-11 lead with a 14-2 spurt. But Green has to go to the bench with his second foul.
But a big run with just two points from Hansbrough so far? Heels’ fans will take that.
That said, Duke is only missing. The Devils are getting shots, good ones, they just aren’t going in yet. They will.
4:32 And there it is. Greg Paulus has been quiet until now, hitting two HUGE 3s. Duke’s back within eight, and the Devils have the ball.
2:05 Another HUGE 3 from Paulus, who cuts it to nine. Wow.
But here come the Heels right back. Wayne Ellington knocks a 3 down with a hand in his face and then Green gets a steal and dunk, followed by a layup from Ellington. All of a sudden, UNC is back up 12, 38-26.
30.2 seconds Another 3 from Paulus, who now has four in the game and just looks pure. Still, the Heels make it an 11-point game, 42-31, a lead they take into the break.
Paulus is single-handily keeping the Devils in the game. And if you don’t think this one will be close soon after the second half begins, you don’t know this rivalry.
16:01 See? Here come the Devils, who are just hustling harder for rebounds than the Heels right now. They are back in the game because of their effort on the glass.
The teams are throwing haymakers at each other right now, and a put-back by big man Brian Zoubek has the Devils within four.
This is going to the wire.
14:35 I knew this was coming. DeMarcus Nelson, who struggled in the first half, is putting the ball on the floor and taking it the rack. He’s done it twice in the second half, and now it’s a three-point game.
The Heels don’t have anybody who can guard Nelson if he keeps doing that.
13:14 Great timeout by Coach K. Duke gives up two offensive boards that leads to a UNC bucket, and then Ellington makes a soft leaner in the paint. Heels go up seven, but Coach K will get the Devils straight again.
11:47 A 3 from Kyle Singler and another by Jon Scheyer, and now the Devils are down three, 57-54, with the ball.
That’s why Heels’ fans wish Roy Williams would call timeouts like that.
9:50 The Heels are going through another dry spell, and they’re doing it without getting the ball into Hansbrough’s hands again. Why do they do this, and why does it seem to happen every single game?
9:21 Scheyer ties it with a 3, then Thomas answers, followed by a beautiful reversing of the ball by Duke to an open Singler, who ties it again. This is incredible.
6:07 66-66, and we are right back where we were a month ago. Granted, it wasn’t tied late in Chapel Hill, but to win this game, Carolina will need a string of defensive stops, and they can’t get them. Duke is doing a heckuva job spreading the floor, dribble-penetrating, and getting soft lay-ins off the glass.
Right now, this is Duke’s game. It is being played at the Devils’ pace. They are rebounding, they are forcing UNC to shoot over them, and there’s nothing in transition, not over the last 3 minutes at least. Even when the Heels do have a chance to run, they have to pull up for mid-range jumpers, and as anybody who watches hoops knows, that shot hasn’t been in young American players’ repertoires for years now.
5:51 Putback by Scheyer. Duke leads, 68-66.
3:51 Duke walks the ball up the floor and goes into its spread, even holding the ball and letting the clock wind down. UNC has gotten a couple of stops, but again, like last month, it’s only because Duke has missed.
And the Devils are doing an incredible job inside now on Hansbrough. They are double-teaming every time and not going for ball fakes. Hansbrough now has to try to find an open shooter when the double comes.
What a game.
2:06 Two BIG stops for the Heels, and Hansbrough fights for a rebound, maybe pushes and fouls, and makes a tough putback. The Heels go back in front by two, 70-68.
1:48 Quick shot by Paulus out of a timeout … no good. Is that what Duke wanted there?
1: 31 Lawson is fouled, and if he makes these, the Heels go up by two possessions. That’s huge against a team that can shoot it like Duke.
Makes ’em. 72-68.
1:07 Great stop by the Heels, great board by Ginyard — and he travels. Duke ball.
49.6 seconds Steal by Lawson … he’s going … taking it to the hole — AND MISSES!
But Green is there for the tip-in. Heels by six, 74-68.
28.8 seconds What?!?!?!? Paulus tries to draw a foul shooting a 3? The guy who made four straight in the first half?
Heels take it and it leads to a dunk for Green. Heels by eight, 76-68. What a turn. That might be it.
15.0 seconds Paulus’ jumper is blocked. That’s 13 blocked shots for the Heels. Incredible.
FINAL 76-68, Heels.
What a ballgame, Great effort — incredible, unbelievable effort — on both sides. A big lead early for UNC, a big second half for Duke, a huge stand at the end for the Heels, which decided the game. I’m worn out, and all I did was watch.
Anybody up for Round 3 in a week?