North Carolina Upset Duke In A Final Four Classic, Ending Coach K’s Career In The Process

The 2021-22 college basketball season has produced myriad storylines, culminating in a memorable and wildly entertaining 2022 NCAA Tournament. Saint Peter’s made an historic run, the tournament was conducted in its traditional format for the first time since 2019, and Kansas earned a spot in the national title game with a wire-to-wire victory over Villanova on Saturday. However, the No. 1 discussion point of the campaign has been the final tour of duty for Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils entered the 2022 Final Four as the betting favorite to claim a sixth national title under his leadership, and Duke also faced off against its long-time rival, the North Carolina Tar Heels, for the first time in NCAA Tournament history. North Carolina defeated Duke in Coach K’s final home game at Cameron Indoor Stadium just weeks ago, setting the stage for potential revenge and one-of-a-kind scrutiny. As such, the level of buzz was off the charts for the matchup and, if anything, the game itself may have exceeded the considerable hype. The game was hotly contested for 40 minutes but, in the end, North Carolina made the requisite plays down the stretch, pulling off the upset by a final score of 81-77 to advance to Monday’s final.

After a tremendous amount of build-up, the game began with a nervy start on both sides. The two teams combined to score just seven points before the first media timeout, with 3-of-14 combined shooting in the process. Foul trouble then became a storyline when Duke big man Mark Williams, who projects as a first-round NBA Draft pick, picked up a second foul with more than 15 minutes left in the half. He was replaced by Theo John and, while the backup gave Duke quality minutes, he picked up four fouls before halftime in his own right.

From there, the uneven shooting continued for most of the first half. The teams missed 22 of the first 32 shots, with neither able to assert control on the scoreboard as a result. Paolo Banchero did flash his individual brilliance, though, as he was able to generate an impressive dunk in semi-transition.

Duke threw the first haymaker of the game, using a 9-2 run to take a six-point lead at 24-18. Banchero knocked down a three-pointer shortly after to give the Blue Devils a six-point edge with fewer than three minutes remaining before halftime.

In keeping with the flow of the first half, North Carolina then answered with six straight points to the time, answering every Duke punch with one of their own. The final first-half salvo was a Jeremy Roach three-point play in the final seconds, giving Duke a 37-34 lead at the break. Neither team was efficient in the first half, though Duke held the edge with 26 points in the paint and 56 percent shooting inside the arc.

When the bell rang for the second half, Duke struck first, extending its lead to seven points in short order. That set the stage for a response from North Carolina that changed the trajectory of the evening, as the Tar Heels scored 13 consecutive points. Caleb Love scored 10 of the 13 for North Carolina, forcing a timeout from Duke.

Out of the stoppage, Duke responded in kind. Banchero and Williams put pressure on the rim, knotting the game at 55-55 and keeping with the back-and-forth nature of the second half.

Williams picked up his fourth foul soon after, heading to the bench as a result. North Carolina kept pushing in the meantime, reclaiming a five-point advantage behind continued shot-making from Love, backcourt mate R.J. Davis, and big man Armando Bacot.

Almost immediately, Duke countered with six straight points, taking the lead, and that set off a stretch of ties and lead changes that was befitting of the moment. Neither team led by more than two points for nearly seven consecutive minutes, and the close-fought nature of the proceedings only heightened the already considerable drama.

On three consecutive possessions, Duke’s Trevor Keels, North Carolina’s Brady Manek, and Duke’s Wendell Moore converted three-pointers, denting the scoreboard and giving the Blue Devils a 74-73 lead with 1:18 remaining on the 17th lead change of the night.

After a timeout by Duke, R.J. Davis drew a foul and made a pair of free throws, giving North Carolina a one-point edge with 1:01 remaining. On the other end, Bacot was called for a relatively questionable fifth foul, earning a disqualification and putting Williams at the line with a chance to give Duke the lead. The big man missed both attempts, however, and that set the stage for yet another haymaker from Love.

The talented guard connected on a three-pointer to put the Tar Heels in front by four points with less than 30 seconds remaining.

Duke wisely pushed the pace, scoring on a layup by Roach in only seven seconds. Love had a chance to push North Carolina’s lead back to four at the free throw line, but he split a pair, giving Duke a chance to tie the game on offense. The Tar Heels committed a foul against Keels, with the freshman splitting the attempts with 10.4 seconds remaining.

Love garnered the defensive rebound and went to the line with another chance to push the margin to a more comfortable position. When he made both attempts, North Carolina was in a commanding spot, and Duke went begging on the other end, sealing the monumental victory.

There were many heroes for the Tar Heels, though Love stood above the rest. He finished with a game-high 28 points on 11-of-20 shooting, and Love’s second-half heroics will undoubtedly be remembered for a long time in Chapel Hill. Bacot, on one leg for a portion of the second half, produced a double-double with 11 points and 21 rebounds, with the most rebounds in a Final Four game since Nick Collison in 2003.

After a relatively slow start, North Carolina scored 47 points after halftime and finished with well over 1.1 points per possession offensively. The Tar Heels were buoyed by 17 offensive rebounds, and Duke shot just 5-of-22 from three-point range, considerably leveling the playing field and taking some of the juice away from the more talented Blue Devils.

North Carolina will continue from here, facing Kansas in a Blue Blood showdown for the national title on Monday evening in New Orleans. At the same time, Coach K’s career comes to an end in a fashion that would be difficult to script with his last two losses coming against an arch rival and under the bright lights.

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