There has been a lot of love between North Carolina and Duke lately, culminating in Mike Krzyzewski's awkward wave to the crowd during the only ovation he'll ever get at the Smith Center when he was honored for his 1,000th win before Saturday's game.
That's half of what makes the rivalry. Respect. Fellowship. Honor.
North Carolina honoring Krzyzewski and Duke's touching pregame tribute to Dean Smith at Cameron epitomized all of that.
That's only half of it.
When Justise Winslow screamed at Marcus Paige after backing him down in the post, and Paige pointed at Winslow after hitting a 3-pointer at the other end, and Winslow drove the lane and planted his foot in Brice Johnson's groin -- all in the space of three possessions! – that was the other half.
Emotion. Feistiness. And yes, some good, old-fashioned hate.
Without that, it's not a rivalry. It's a pickup game at the YMCA. An alumni exhibition.
You can't have one without the other. Saturday had both as Duke spoiled North Carolina's Senior Night with a 84-77 win.
“We have tremendous respect for them. They have tremendous respect for us. That's why the games are as electric and fun and exciting as they are,” Paige said. “But on the court, they're not our friends and we're not their friends and we're not looking to make friends. That's just part of what makes it great.”
Winslow avoided a flagrant foul for his flawless crane-kick technique, but would, shortly after halftime, pick one up for tripping Justin Jackson, a former AAU teammate. He sat out most of the second half as Duke wore down the Tar Heels to take and hold the lead, but those two Winslow sequences – the back-and-forth at the end of the first half and the tangle with Jackson – the friction that has so often energized these games.
“I don't know what y'all saw, but Paige is a great player and it was a very emotional game,” Winslow said. “It's fun when teams are playing with a lot of emotion. It was nothing more than that.”
Just as North Carolina could never quite put Duke away when it was playing well in the first half, it could never quite close the gap on the Blue Devils once they took the lead in the second. It was all too similar to the home loss to N.C. State, when the Tar Heels threatened, but only briefly.
The atmosphere in both of those games was everything Roy Williams asked for when he called out the Smith Center crowd after the win over Georgia Tech, but the Tar Heels couldn't deliver in either, not for lack of trying.
“They're pretty good,” Williams said. “We played pretty doggone well except for a four- or five-minute stretch there.”
The Tar Heels were outplayed by N.C. State's backcourt in that loss, and Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones combined for 44 points Saturday – Jones, a stone-cold killer, with 17 of his 24 points in the second half despite suffering back spasms after a hard fall to the floor.
Jones was great in the comeback against St. John's, great in the comeback at Virginia, lead the overtime win over North Carolina at Cameron and pushed Duke along again Saturday. Krzyzewski was asked who many freshmen he's coached with that kind of killer instinct.
“(Tommy) Amaker. (Bobby) Hurley,” Krzyzewski said. “That's it. That's where he is.”
That's a short, exclusive list. If nothing else, Jones' play against North Carolina– 46 points, 15 assist and one turnover while playing 80 of 85 minutes – elevates him onto it.
Playing the Tar Heels has brought out the best in Jones, just as it brought out the fiery side of Paige and Winslow, just as it left Krzyzewski humbled before the game and Williams disconsolate afterward.
That's why it matters. The respect. The emotion. Sometimes there's more of one than the other, but it all shows up in the end.
DeCock: email@example.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947