basketball-men-d1 flag

Evan Marinofsky | | February 4, 2022

Roy Williams' top 8 North Carolina-Duke matchups

Roy Williams remembers top battles with Coach K in UNC-Duke rivalry

For the North Carolina men's basketball team, the day had finally come: Jan. 18, 1986. It was the date everyone had circled on their calendars because it was the grand opening of the Dean Smith Center -- a 21,750-seat arena solely for the UNC men's basketball squad. The Tar Heels were set to upgrade quite a bit from the 6,822-seat Carmichael Arena. 

The first opponent in the new basketball mecca: Duke. 

Roy Williams was in the midst of his eighth year as an assistant under then-UNC head coach Dean Smith. On the other bench, Mike Krzyzewski was in his sixth year of being the head coach at Duke. Little did either know how much history they'd go on to have against each other in the then-brand new building. 

That night was also one in which Coach K made a lasting first impression on Williams. 

Here are the eight most memorable Duke-North Carolina games from Williams' perspective. 

Jan. 18, 1986: The first game at Dean Smith Center | North Carolina 95, Duke 92 

If there wasn't already enough fuel to this fire, North Carolina entered the matchup ranked No. 1. Duke was 16-0 and claimed the No. 3 spot in the rankings. 

Despite a late rally from Duke, North Carolina proved its No. 1 ranking, edging the Blue Devils, 95-92. 

RANKINGS: Check out the latest AP poll

While Williams doesn't remember much from the game, he does remember one specific thing that's never left him. 

"I just remember the first thing that hit me was that this is a really competitive guy and I think that's the thing that jumped out at me immediately," Williams said of Coach K to Andy Katz recently. "It was a tough job, coming into Duke after Bill Foster had done a nice job and the whole bit. But that's the first thought I had — how this is a really competitive guy. And I've continued that feeling the entire time." 

What may have helped Williams get that impression of Krzyzewski was the Duke bench boss was issued a technical foul during the game. 

"I was shocked. I did not curse," Krzyzewski told the Charlotte News & Observer at the time. "I've had technicals before and probably deserved them. But not this time. I didn't say much." 

Feb. 5, 2004: Roy Williams' first Duke-UNC game as a head coach | Duke 83, North Carolina 81 (OT) 

If Williams needed a reminder of how crazy the Duke-UNC rivalry could be, then-Duke senior Chris Duhon gave him one. 

With 6.5 seconds left in overtime at the Dean Smith Center, Duhon flew by multiple Tar Heels on his way to the basket and finished a reverse layup to push Duke past UNC, 83-81. 

"We had two or three guys that got out there and did the 'apron ole' and let [Duhon] drive right by them, that's what I remember," Williams recalled of the loss. 

A little over a month later, UNC traveled to Duke and lost, 70-65, which meant Williams started off 0-2 against Duke as a head coach. 

"Those two weren't very good as far as I was concerned," Williams said of those two losses. 

March 6, 2005: Marvin Williams sends the Smith Center into a frenzy | North Carolina 75, Duke 73 

On Feb. 9, 2005, UNC lost to Duke, 71-70, in a heartbreaker at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Williams was 0-3 against Coach K, and dying for a win over his squad's bitter rival. 

Little did Williams know that on March 6 of that same year, not only would he get his first win over Duke as coach of UNC, but he'd experience a moment he'd never forget. 

With 19.4 seconds left in the game and down by two points, then-UNC junior Raymond Felton was at the free throw line shooting two. His first shot went in to cut the Duke lead to 73-72. But then on his second shot, it hit the back of the rim and bounced out. In a mad scramble in front of the Duke hoop, then-freshman Marvin Williams tossed up a shot that went in to give UNC the late lead. 

The place went crazy. 

"The put-back that Marvin Williams had at the end of the game at the Smith Center was the loudest moment of any arena I've ever seen in my life," Williams recalled. "Whether it was Allen Fieldhouse, Rupp Arena, Stillwater for Oklahoma State, at that moment, it was the loudest I'd ever heard a basketball arena be and what a great win and thrill it was for us that day." 

Later that year, Williams won his first national championship as head honcho at UNC. 

March 4, 2007: The bloody nose game | North Carolina 86, Duke 72 

North Carolina vs. Duke was usually a war because of the scoreboard. On March 4, 2007, it turned into an actual war. 

After an already physical game, then-sophomore Tyler Hansbrough was at the free throw line for UNC. After missing his shot, he went to grab his rebound. As he went up with the ball, Duke's Gerald Henderson came across and crushed Hansbrough, sending him to the ground and opening up the blood flow from his nose. Henderson was ejected because of the play. 

"An unbelievably vicious game," Williams said of that matchup with Duke in 2007. "Both teams were playing so hard, it was unbelievable. But I did not see the blow, but I knew that I saw Gerald [Henderson] go in there with intent to get the ball or get somebody or whatever, but I loved Gerald too. What I remember is seeing all the blood all over Tyler Hansbrough and we'd played really well and it was a high-level game." 

Hansbrough finished the game with 26 points, 17 rebounds and one broken nose. 

Feb. 8, 2012: Austin Rivers sinks the buzzer-beater | Duke 85, North Carolina 84 

The moments leading up to then-Duke freshman Austin Rivers' buzzer-beater to take down UNC are etched in Williams' mind in a specific series of plays. 

"There were five marginal plays at the end of the game, the last two minutes, and all five of those plays went Duke's way and then Austin made that big shot," Williams said of the plays. "The referee said we deflected a shot that was an air ball that went out of bounds when you can clearly see on the replay that we did not." 

That was one. Then comes the second. 

BLUE DEVILS: Duke basketball is starting to hit its stride in Coach K's farewell season

"Tyler Zeller getting pushed from behind right in front of a guy who's very dominant in ACC officiating nowadays. He was pushed from the back and he goes like that and the ball bounces off his hand and goes in for them. We missed two 1-and-1s so there were five different opportunities for us to make one play and we didn't make any of those and then Austin [Rivers] made a big-time, big-time shot." 

After all of that, Rivers stunned Dean Smith Center with a three-pointer to beat the buzzer and give Duke the 85-84 win. 

In the interview, Williams was quick to remind the audience of what happened a few weeks later: UNC took down Duke, 88-70, at Chapel Hill. 

"Our guys were really really focused on that game," Williams said of the win on March 3, 2012. 

Feb. 20, 2014: Snowstorm delays UNC-Duke game by eight days | North Carolina 74, Duke 66 

On Feb. 12, 2014, a winter storm hit North Carolina hard, making travel on roads extremely difficult. That led Coach K to make a big decision and Williams remembers exactly where he was when he got the news. 

"I was across the concourse here inside watching our swim meet for a few minutes and somebody came and got me and told me the game had been canceled," Williams remembered. "And I said 'What for?' and he said 'Duke feels like they can't get here.' I didn't have the feeling that most of our fans had. Mike felt it wasn't safe, that's the bottom line." 

So, the game was played on Feb. 20, 2014, and UNC stomped all over Duke, taking down the Blue Devils, 74-66. Then-freshman Marcus Paige scored all 13 of his points in the second half to help lead his team past Duke. 

The decision by Coach K and Duke to postpone the initial game was for safety reasons, but that didn't stop motivation from flowing into the UNC basketball world. 

"It did give all of our fans, and perhaps even our players, a little more incentive when [Duke] came back later," Williams said. 

March 3, 2017: The win that motivated the run | North Carolina 90, Duke 83 

In the final game of the 2016-17 regular season, North Carolina and Duke clashed. Then-UNC junior Joel Berry went 5-for-5 on three-pointers and led the Tar Heels with 28 points in the 90-83 win. 

But what was most memorable about the game was its impact it had on UNC down the stretch. 

Despite losing to Duke in the ACC tournament, UNC went on to beat Gonzaga in the national championship. Williams pointed to that win on March 3, 2017 as a motivator for winning the big dance. 

"Yeah that was," Williams said in response to Katz asking if that gave UNC momentum to eventually win a national title. "I keep using the same terminology, but another big-time game...I remember Theo Pinson getting the big dunk at the end of the game and celebrating as only Theo can. But you're right, we needed some good positive moments going down the stretch and that was good for us." 

March 6, 2021: Williams' final game against Duke | North Carolina 91, Duke 73 

On Feb. 6, 2021, UNC took down Duke, 91-87, at Cameron Indoor Stadium. There was only one catch: It wasn't a normal road game at Duke because there were zero fans in attendance. 

But a few weeks later with Duke slated to visit UNC, North Carolina allowed roughly 3,200 fans into Dean Smith Center for each of the final two home games. That included the season finale against the Blue Devils. 

FEBRUARY MADNESS: 9 questions to ask before a wild month in college basketball

"Coming back over here, all of a sudden we have the crowd and the crowd was really anxious to see a basketball game again and being in there for the Duke game was huge," Williams said of that day. "It had less than 3,000 people, but it sounded like 21,750." 

In the win, not only did the UNC seniors get a proper send-off, but it would end up being Williams' final game against Duke. Fortunately for him, it was a win. 

"The Duke-North Carolina basketball series, to me, is the greatest rivalry in college athletics," Williams said. "You can get off easily and say it's the greatest rivalry in college basketball if you want to, but I'm willing to take it a step farther." 

March Madness: One stat shows AP No. 1 is far from a championship lock

It seems like a safe pick. But it’s happened just once since 2002.

What March Madness looked like the year you were born

Here's wishing you a very vintage March Madness and may all your dreams of a perfect bracket come true. Here's what March Madness looked like the year you were born.

College basketball: Longest active NCAA tournament streaks

Sustaining excellence in men's college basketball is no easy task. But some teams have active ongoing streaks that have lasted two decades.

Subscribe To Email Updates

Enter your information to receive emails about offers, promotions from and our partners