Looking Back... A Triple Overtime Classic in the Duke-Carolina Rivalry
Feb. 21, 2008
Duke-Carolina, Carolina-Duke, the battle of the blues, call it what you will, there's a big consensus that these two neighbors have college basketball's most compelling rivalry. They've met well over 200 times, with a roster of hall-of-fame coaches and hall-of-fame players producing a wealth of hall-of-fame games.
The best game ever in the rivalry? Ask 10 people and you're liable to get 10 different answers. But 40 years ago - Saturday March 2, 1968 - Dean Smith's Tar Heels and Vic Bubas' Blue Devils put on a classic that deserves to make any short list.
Duke was the ACC's big dog in the middle 1960s, advancing to the 1963, 1964, and 1966 Final Fours. But North Carolina leapt past the field in 1967, winning three times against Duke, including the ACC Tournament title game, before advancing to the Final Four. In retrospect, this can be seen as the point where North Carolina passed Duke for a time but it wasn't so obvious in 1968.
North Carolina returned four starters from 1967, including All-America forward Larry Miller. Juniors Rusty Clark, Dick Grubar, and Bill Bunting joined Miller in the starting lineup, along with touted sophomore wing Charlie Scott. The Tar Heels began the season ranked 4th in the AP poll and never dropped lower than 7th during the year.
Duke had to replace Bob Verga, the ACC's leading scorer in 1967. But center Mike Lewis had a big senior season, challenging Miller as the league's top player. Bubas surrounded Lewis with a cohesive corps of contributors. Senior forward Joe Kennedy says, "I think this was the best team I played on as far as attitude. Everybody cared for each other and nobody's ego got in the way."
North Carolina won the first game in the rivalry, 75-72 on January 6 in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels came to Durham 22-2 and ranked 3rd. However, they had just suffered that second loss earlier the same week, 87-86 to South Carolina. Duke was 19-4 and ranked 10th. It was the final home game for Lewis, Kennedy, guards Ron Wendelin and Tony Barone, and forward Tim Kolodziej and was broadcast on the ACC network.
The ACC network was a long way from ESPN setting up shop for the entire weekend but don't make the mistake of thinking it didn't matter as much. Lewis says, "People think of Duke-Carolina as bigger today but it was pretty big back then. It was a pretty big deal. The hype is 100 times greater now. But we were only on TV two or three times in the regular season. So, these games were a big deal. I liked all the attention. And every game was important for tournament seeding because winning the tournament was the only way to get to the NCAAs."
Duke went up 11-7 early but missed six consecutive shots. Clark scored twice inside on a 6-0 UNC run that put the visitors up 25-19. Lewis scored twice in the final minute of the second half to make the score 39-37 UNC at intermission.
Duke went up 43-41 early in second half, when a rash of turnovers led to an 11-2 UNC run and a 52-45 lead. The 6'8" Lewis was having a great game inside against 6'11" Clark and 6'9" Bunting but he also was in foul trouble, picking up three in the first half.
Carolina had Duke on the ropes much of the second half but couldn't apply the knockout punch. One reason was the defensive job Kennedy was doing on Miller. Lewis calls Miller "the toughest competitor I ever played against...he was a killer."
Miller had "killed" Duke in the 1967 ACC Tournament title game, making 13 of 14 field goal attempts in North Carolina's 82-73 win the ACC Tournament.
Kennedy was a pretty good defensive player, good enough to play three seasons in the pros. He says, "Miller was real strong underneath and had the ability to get to the line. Guarding a player as good as Miller, you can't focus on anything else. You spend all your time on him. You try to keep him from getting the ball and you try to keep him away from the basket and keep him on the perimeter, which where we wanted him."
Kennedy would put the clamps on Miller, holding him to 15 points and 5-18 shooting. But UNC had other resources; all five starters would score in double figures.
Duke had an unlikely hero, arguably the most unlikely hero in the Duke-Carolina pantheon. Fred Lind was a 6'8" junior, buried so far on the Duke bench that he came into the March game having scored only a dozen points the entire season.
But there were flashes. Kennedy says, "We saw it a lot in practice. He played with abandon in practice but would lock up in games and play tentative."
Lind agrees. "Sometimes I would have some good practices. But I was up and down. I was inconsistent. It was mental concentration. If I was not fired up, then I could be pretty lousy."
Bubas had a hunch that he might need Lind. "Coach Bubas told me before the game that he might have an assignment for me. I think he was anticipating some foul trouble. So he told me to be ready."
North Carolina led 59-51 midway through the second half and Lewis was on the bench with four fouls. But a three-point play by Lind cut the score to 59-54 and enabled Duke to maintain contact. It was 62-56 when Miller missed a pair of 20-footers.
Duke closed to 62-60 with 6:22 left. It was 64-62 with 4:51 left, when Smith called for the four corners. Lewis fouled out with 3:54 left, ending his home career with 18 points and 18 rebounds. Now living in Kernersville, North Carolina, Lewis says, "Now I joke that I created a folk hero. But having to sit down at the time was frustrating beyond belief. But I did have the best seat in the house. Besides, Freddie did better than I could have done."
With Lewis out, North Carolina could have tried to put the hammer down. But Smith elected to spread the floor and burn clock. Lind says, "No shot clock, the lead, an experienced team... It seems like pretty good strategy to me. They were pretty prepared for that kind of game. I don't fault Coach Smith at all."
But even the best plans require execution. UNC missed some big free throws and Lind tied the game at 65 with two foul shots. There were 61 seconds left. UNC held for the final shot but Grubar missed a 15-footer and Clark missed a follow shot. Overtime.
North Carolina jumped on top in the extra period, leading 69-65 and 75-71. Barone made two foul shots to cut the margin to two and Lind hit an improbable 22-footer with seven seconds left to tie the game at 75-75 and send it to a second overtime.
Again UNC jumped to the lead, again Duke clawed back. Duke forward Steve Vandenberg tied the game at 79 with a jumper. There was 2:25 left. The Tar Heels ran the clock down but Clark missed a 15-footer as time expired. On to a third overtime.
By this point almost everyone was fighting fatigue and foul trouble. Kennedy remembers the end of the game. "You're almost oblivious at that stage. You're so focused on what's happening, you don't even hear the crowd. It's really one action at a time."
North Carolina continued to run the four corners. Lind says, "It's pretty tense defending the four corners. If you lay back, they run the clock down. If you gamble, you could make the big mistake. But you have to try to make something happen on defense."
Lind made the biggest defensive play with 1:45 left in the third overtime. Leading 82-81, North Carolina's Clark thought he saw an opening and drove for a lay-up. Lind blocked the shot and Duke gained possession. Then with 1:18 left Lind scored on a driving, left-handed lay-up over Clark's outstretched fingers. Duke by one.
Carolina came up empty and Miller fouled Kennedy, who made a pair of foul shots to give Duke a three-point lead, the biggest Duke margin since early in the second half. But Grubar scored from 10-feet to make it 85-84. Carolina trapped Barone on the press and he was called for a charge. It was Barone's fifth foul, making him the fourth Blue Devil to foul out. Thirty-one seconds remained.
Not surprisingly, UNC put the ball in Miller's hands. But Kennedy wouldn't give an inch to the All-American; Miller made only a single field goal in the final 25 minutes. Miller tried to hit Clark underneath but the pass sailed high and out of bounds. Again, Carolina pressed but this time Duke beat the pressure. Kennedy hit Vandenberg for a lay-up. Clark scored uncontested at the buzzer, making the final 87-86 Duke.
Following the game Bubas tried to sum it up. "Bench, bench, bench, effort, never-say-die, relentless, wouldn't quit. It was so fantastic, it's hard to talk about."
Smith took responsibility for the loss. "When we go into a delay game and lose, it's my fault. I'm proud of our effort. We had three last shots to win this which back-rimmed."
Grubar led North Carolina with 17 points, followed by Miller and Clark with 15, and Scott and Bunting with 14. Miller pulled down 15 rebounds. Lewis' 18 points led Duke, with Kennedy adding 14 and Vandenberg and guard Dave Golden scoring 13.
But the hero of the game was Lind, with 16 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 blocks. Kennedy says, "When Mike fouled out, Carolina could smell blood. Who knew Freddie was going to do what he did? It was almost surreal."
Lind returns the favor. "It was a big team effort. I get more credit than I deserve because I hadn't been playing at that level. But the job that Joe did on Larry Miller was unbelievable. We don't win without that."
The joy in Durham lasted less than a week. Duke fell in the ACC Tournament semifinals 12-10 to NC State, when Bubas refused to come out and challenge State's all-out stall. Duke went to the NIT.
The same night North Carolina barely survived a spirited upset bid by South Carolina but righted its ship and sailed all the way to the NCAA title game, where they lost to Lew Alcindor's UCLA powerhouse.
Joe Kennedy lives in Norfolk, where he owns a company that operates private schools. He remembers, "A lot of strange things happened that day for the game to turn out the way that it did. Like all Duke-Carolina games, this was big but it will always be the biggest for me. I won't forget it anytime soon."
Lind leveraged his first moment in the college spotlight into a solid senior season. He averaged 10.6 points and 7.9 rebounds per game in 1969. He barely missed making NBA rosters on several occasions. When that didn't work out, he went to law school at DePaul (he's an Illinois native) and has been a public defender in High Point and Greensboro for 33 years. He jokes, "I think I'll make a career of it."
He says, "It was my biggest game. No doubt. But it was just a ball game when you get right down to it. What I do now is more important. But it is one game that I'll always remember."
Jim Sumner's articles on southern sports history have appeared in the ACC Handbook, the ACC Area Sports Journal, Blue Devil Weekly, Inside Carolina, the Wolfpacker, Baseball America, Basketball America, and other publications. His latest book, Tales From the Duke Blue Devils Hardwood, was published in 2005. In his bimonthly column "Looking Back... by Jim Sumner", he will examine the rich history of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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