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Duke-UNC: Winter weather forces historic postponement

The Tar Heels and Blue Devils will play at the Smith Center on Feb. 20.

By Andrew Carter
acarter@newsobserver.com
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/02/12/20/34/zwbDD.Em.138.jpeg|224
    Harry Lynch - hlynch@newsobserver.com
    Students wait in the snow for seats for the UNC-Duke game at the Smith Center Wednesday. The game was later postponed when the Blue Devils couldn’t make it to Chapel Hill.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/02/12/20/36/UISFP.Em.138.jpeg|203
    Harry Lynch - hlynch@newsobserver.com
    UNC freshman Josh Mayo is snowy but happy after being near the head of the line for risers Wednesday outside of the Smith Center at UNC.

CHAPEL HILL There have been some wild, memorable North Carolina-Duke games – ones that were won and lost at the buzzer, ones with historic comebacks and improbable moments that have endured.

In the 236-game history of the rivalry, though, it is believed there had never been something like what happened Wednesday.

Amid a winter storm that paralyzed the region and made roadways treacherous places, the UNC-Duke game was postponed. It has been rescheduled for next Thursday at the Smith Center. The time of the game and TV broadcast information hadn’t been decided, according to a statement UNC released.

Officials decided to postpone the game after it became clear that Duke wouldn’t be able to arrive in time for the scheduled tipoff at 9:10 p.m. Wednesday.

“Duke’s bus is not able to get to their campus to pick up the team in time to be able to make the trip to Chapel Hill, so we can’t play this evening.” UNC athletics director Bubba Cunningham said in a statement. “The safety of the teams and officials is the No. 1 priority and this was the best decision to make at this time.”

Snow began falling in Chapel Hill at around 12:45 p.m. and by 1:15 roads and sidewalks were covered. UNC canceled classes and closed its offices at 1, and campus became gridlocked while people attempted to leave.

Despite deteriorating conditions, officials from both schools maintained throughout the afternoon that the game would go on. During a phone interview shortly before 4 p.m., Cunningham expressed confidence that the game would be played.

He cited the ACC’s inclement weather policy, which states that games be played if the teams can arrive, and if the officials and game operations staff are present.

“Then it becomes an institutional question ourselves and our facilities folks and the department of public safety to try to determine what can we do,” Cunningham said. “We are encouraging people that have tickets, as the governor has, to stay off the road.”

Had the game been played, it likely would have gone on in front of a crowd dominated by students. Cunningham said UNC would have used an open-seating policy that would have allowed those in attendance to sit where they wanted, though ticket holders would have been allowed to retain their seats.

UNC distributed 6,000 tickets to students and those without a ticket would have been allowed in, Cunningham said.

Marcus Paige, the Tar Heels’ sophomore point guard, expressed disappointment in a post on Twitter that the game wouldn’t be played.

“I’m just still thinking about the whole lower half being filled with students,” Paige wrote. “Woulda been the coolest thing ever.”

Officials at both schools couldn’t remember another UNC-Duke game that had been postponed. Any kind of postponement has been rare in this area.

Before Wednesday, Duke had never had a game postponed in Mike Krzyzewski’s head coaching tenure, which began before the 1980-81 season.

UNC last had a game postponed in 2000, when a winter storm left nearly two feet of snow in Orange County. The storm forced the game against Maryland to be played two days later.

Before that, a UNC game was last postponed in January 1991. The Persian Gulf War began the night N.C. State was scheduled to play in Chapel Hill and officials moved the game to February, when the Tar Heels and Wolfpack played on consecutive nights.

The postponement leaves UNC and Duke with difficult schedules next week. The Tar Heels will host Pittsburgh on Saturday and then travel to Florida State on Monday before playing Duke on Thursday night. UNC will then play Wake Forest at home next Saturday.

Duke will also play four times in eight days. The Blue Devils host Maryland on Saturday and travel to Georgia Tech on Tuesday before facing UNC at the Smith Center next Thursday. Then Duke will play No. 1 Syracuse at Cameron Indoor Stadium next Saturday.

Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter
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