Duke vs North Carolina is considered the best rivalry in college basketball. The rivalry will have its most hyped-up matchup of all time on Saturday in the Final 4.
Mike Krzyzewski – Coach K – is in his last season and he meets the bitter rival Tar Heels in the Final 4. Both teams are playing extremely well too, which makes the matchup incredibly intriguing.
Duke vs UNC has provided countless classic games. The storylines in many of these matchups have made the games memorable. For example, UNC had a regular-season ACC title on the line in 2005, or the Tar Heels’ former legendary coach Dean Smith passed away before a Duke vs UNC matchup.
Here are the 10 all-time best Duke vs. UNC games ahead of their Final 4 matchup on Saturday.
1989: North Carolina 77, Duke 74
The 1989 ACC Championship game. There was plenty to talk about ahead of the matchup.
Earlier in the season, a sign that stated “J.R. Can’t Read” mocked UNC’s J.R. Reid. Smith took shots stating Reid and Scott Williams had higher SAT scores than Duke’s Christian Laettner and Danny Ferry. This of course stirred the pot, Smith and Coach K were angry with each other headed into the ACC title game.
Instead of late-game theatrics, this 1989 matchup was ugly. It had 49 total fouls between the teams and was a physical and heated game. North Carolina controlled most of the game and put the nail in the coffin, winning 77-74.
Overall, this game was fitting for the rivalry. Both teams were angry coming in and that showed on the court with the physical play.
1974: North Carolina 96, Duke 92 (OT)
In 1974, North Carolina vs. Duke featured one of the greatest comebacks in college basketball history. With 17 seconds left, the Tar Heels were down by eight. Keep in mind, this was a time when the 3-point line did not exist.
UNC needed four buckets. Duke imploded in the clutch with turnovers and missed free throws. Ultimately, the Tar Heels’ Walter Davis hit a game-tying buzzer-beater to force overtime, and the Tar Heels won in the extra period. This remains one of the best comebacks in college basketball history.
1981: Duke 66, North Carolina 65 (OT)
Mike Krzyzewski became Duke’s Head Coach in 1980. In the 1981 season, Coach K got his first win against North Carolina in a classic.
In the regular-season finale, Duke went on a second-half run to trim UNC’s lead. From then on, the game was back and forth. The Blue Devils were down by two with a second remaining. Duke’s Gene Banks hit a buzzer-beater to force overtime.
The Devils rallied behind their home crowd in Cameron Indoor Stadium and defeated the Tar Heels in overtime, 66-65.
1998: Duke 77, North Carolina 75
In 1998, Duke and UNC had a massive matchup. The Blue Devils came into the game ranked No. 1 and the Tar Heels were No. 3. Duke also could clinch an ACC regular-season title with a win.
UNC was looking to spoil the Blue Devils’ conference title. The Tar Heels led by 17 with about 10 minutes left. Duke then went on an incredible 32-11 run. The game was knotted at 75 with a minute left; Duke’s Roshown McLeod hit the game-winning bucket with one minute remaining.
The Blue Devils pulled off an unbelievable comeback in the final minutes to clinch the regular-season ACC title, and it came in a top 3 matchup.
1995: North Carolina 102, Duke 100 (2OT)
Duke vs. North Carolina in 1995 is without a doubt one of the rivalry’s best games. Duke’s season in 1994-95 was interesting since Coach K left the team after the first 12 games due to a bad back. The Blue Devils struggled without his presence on the sideline.
To make matters worse for the Blue Devils, UNC was stacked in the 1994-95 season with Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace leading the charge. The Tar Heels came into Cameron Indoor ranked No. 2 in college basketball.
UNC shot out to a 26-9 lead to begin the game. Duke fought their way back, it was a game of runs. It headed to overtime and with seconds left down three, Duke’s Jeff Capel hit a near halfcourt shot to force a second overtime.
North Carolina sealed the deal in the second overtime. This remains one of the greatest games in the Duke vs. UNC rivalry.
1992: North Carolina 75, Duke 73
The 1992 matchup between UNC and Duke perfectly personifies how heated this rivalry is. Quite literally, the game featured broken bones and blood.
First off, this was a top 10 matchup with No. 1 Duke and No. 9 North Carolina. Heading into the February 5 game, Duke was undefeated. The Blue Devils’ 1992 team ended up winning a national championship.
During the game, Duke’s Bobby Hurley suffered a broken foot and played through it. During a Tar Heel 12-of-14 free-throw shooting stretch in the clutch, UNC’s Eric Montross headed to the free-throw line with blood streaming down his face after taking a vicious elbow.
With 24 seconds remaining, Duke’s Laettner had two chances at a game-winning shot. Laettner missed both shots and UNC went on to win. While this game didn’t have the best finish, which featured many free throws, it was heated and highly competitive.
2004: Duke 83, North Carolina 81 (OT)
Roy Williams was in his first year at UNC in 2004. It was another close contest that headed to overtime, just like Coach K’s first win vs. UNC in 1981.
In 2004, Duke was ranked the top team in the country and UNC was the underdog ranked No. 17. North Carolina’s Jawad Williams hit a clutch three in regulation to send the game to overtime. The Tar Heels simply would not go away as Rashad McCants hit another clutch three to tie the game late in overtime.
However, the Blue Devils came out on top after Chris Duhon’s heroics as he made a tough reverse layup with 6.5 seconds on the clock.
Duke spoiled what could have been Williams’ first win in the rivalry.
2005: North Carolina 75, Duke 73
North Carolina was searching for its first regular-season ACC title in 12 years. The Tar Heels had to beat Duke to seal the regular-season title, but this was a tough challenge.
The Blue Devils came into the game ranked No. 1 and the Tar Heels were No. 19. UNC found themselves down 73-64 with roughly three minutes remaining. The Tar Heels then completed one of their best comebacks in the rivalry and grabbed the ACC title in the process.
2015: Duke 92, North Carolina 90 (OT)
This 2015 matchup has many factors that make it one of the best Duke vs. UNC games. First off, this was the season Duke won its last national title. Their relentless comeback helped the Blue Devils’ run toward a national championship.
Most importantly, the game took place right after Dean Smith’s passing. After a moment of silence for the legendary coach, the game took off.
The Tar Heels dominated in the second half with a 41-18 run and led by 10 with four minutes left. However, Duke was not out of it as they mounted a comeback. The Blue Devils forced overtime and won.
2012: Duke 85, North Carolina 84
In another top 10 matchup, No. 5 UNC welcomed No. 9 Duke in 2012. The Tar Heels controlled most of the game in the second half and were up by 10 with about two minutes left.
As this rivalry has shown over the years, nothing is over. Duke pulled off another stunning comeback. Within two minutes, the Blue Devils came back from a 10-point deficit and won the game. Duke nailed two 3-pointers and UNC’s Tyler Zeller made a massive mistake by tipping a Duke three into his own basket.
To complete the comeback, Austin Rivers hit a buzzer-beating three to rip UNC’s heart out. It was a gut-wrenching collapse for North Carolina.
Duke vs North Carolina is considered the best rivalry in college basketball for a reason. Their matchups have given many memorable moments over the years. Whether it is because of off-the-court bickering or late-game heroics, the rivalry has delivered in many forms.
The Final 4 matchup of Duke vs. North Carolina on Saturday has the makings of another classic. The game certainly has the storyline; hopefully, the game lives up to the hype.