Updated: Apr 7
This image right here is “The Shot” by North Carolina guard Caleb Love that sent Duke Coach Mike Krzyzweksi into retirement with the North Carolina Tar Heels defeating their longtime rivals, the Duke Blue Devils 81-77 to advance to the national championship game to play the Kansas Jayhawks Monday. Love would finish with 28 points in the game that included a gut-wrenching three that iced the game for the Tar Heels over their rivals.
This was the first ever NCAA Tournament meeting between the two blue-blood programs that couldn't have come at a more consequential, and crucial time in college basketball history with this being Krzyzewski’s last season coaching the Blue Devils. Both teams started out tight and struggled to get their mojo going, but once they did it was grind for every bucket for both teams, with neither seemingly able to get a real cushion from the other in a game that had 18 lead changes.
Tar Heels guard RJ Davis also made it tough on Duke’s perimeter defenders by scoring 18 points on 6-of-13 from the field and making two three-pointers, with 14 of his points coming in the first half. He was getting to his spots all night, hitting mid-range shots, finishing at the rim, and had a tight handle that made it hard for Duke’s perimeter defenders such as Jeremy Roach, Wendell Moore, Trevor Keels, and Adrian Griffin to handle. Davis also was solid, crashing the glass with seven rebounds, and had four assists in the game, making a deep impact whenever his backcourt mate Love was on the bench.
Tar Heel center, Armando Bacot was a menace on the glass, grabbing a whooping 21 rebounds, the most since Nick Collison back in 2003, with eight of them being offensive. Bacot only shot 3-of-10 from the field (30%), good for 11 points, and would end up fouling out the game, after hurting his ankle near the end of the second half. However, he was crucial in getting Duke big men Mark Williams (fouled out), and Theo John (4 fouls) in foul trouble, and basically almost had half the rebounds Duke had the entire game (41), with Duke getting outrebounded all game, which definitely played a part in them losing.
Both teams struggled shooting from the field, with Duke shooting 41%, and North Carolina (42%). The Tar Heels shot 38.5% from beyond the arc, compared to the Blue Devil’s paltry 22%. Duke’s struggles at the free throw line, where they shot 12-for-20 (60%), with Williams missing two crucial free throws that could have put Duke up one with 46.7 seconds to go. Keels would also miss his second free throw with the score at 79-77 and 10.4 seconds left that could have made it a one point game, and anything could have happened from there after.
However, Tar Heels star backcourt in Davis and Love would make crucial free throws in crunch time and help put Krzyzewski’s career to an official close in a bitter defeat for Duke. Projected top three pick in this year's NBA Draft, Duke forward Paolo Banchero finished with a double-double of 20 points, 10 rebounds, and two steals on 8-of-17 from the field. He showed why he is ready for the next level, but he tended to be a little too unselfish near the end of the game when the team could have used his assertiveness more.
This win proves the North Carolina program is back on the rise after the last three years have been underwhelming for a program that has been historically dominant and one of the best in college basketball history thanks in large part to first year head coach, and former NBA player, Hubert Davis.
This is the Tar Heels 12th title-game appearance in program history, tied for second in history with Kentucky, and only behind UCLA with 13. After the Tar Heels victory, Love, who made the key three-pointer at the end to seal the win for Duke stated, "Coach puts the ball in me or R.J.'s hand and tells us to make a play, R.J. and me have been doing it all season. Whoever has the ball, we both made great plays, and it just happened to be in my hands, so I made the play. And we came out on top."
Krzyzewski's career officially comes to a close one step short of the sport's biggest stage. He ends his career with five national championships, nine appearances in the title game and 13 Final Fours.
The Tar Heels, who were an underdog ranked as a No.8 seed that no one believed would get this far, will now play the No.1 Kansas Jayhawks at 9:20 p.m. eastern time for a chance at the national championship.