DURHAM, N.C. (AP)—Jon Scheyer doesn’t know what it feels like to beat North Carolina on his home court.
The Duke senior better figure out how to do it—and soon—or else the fourth-ranked Blue Devils (25-5, 12-3) probably can forget about winning the Atlantic Coast Conference’s regular-season title.
Speaking about his 0-3 career record against the Tar Heels (16-14, 5-10) at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Scheyer said Friday that “there’s no doubt we want to turn that tide” in Saturday night’s matchup.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski downplayed that bit of recent history because “we have something bigger at stake”—namely, bouncing back from a loss at Maryland and claiming at least a share of the regular-season championship. For the third straight year, the Blue Devils enter their finale with a chance to grab at least part of the title.
“It’s more about, we’ve just come off of a really tough loss, and we want to end our regular season at the highest level,” Krzyzewski said. “You can only do that if you win.”
Lately, Duke has been unbeatable at Cameron—except when North Carolina makes the eight-mile trip up Tobacco Road to renew college basketball’s fiercest rivalry. The Blue Devils are one win away from their 15th perfect finish at home and would set a school record with their 17th home victory.
That’s only if they get that last win, which will have to come against the one team that has figured out how to silence the Cameron Crazies.
Duke hasn’t beaten the Tar Heels in Durham since 2005—before North Carolina fifth-year senior Marcus Ginyard arrived along with eventual national player of the year Tyler Hansbrough in 2005-06.
“There’s no question that it’s something that we’re very proud of,” Ginyard said. “But again, you’ve just got to get back to remembering why we were so successful there.”
The biggest reason, of course, was personnel.
North Carolina had two constants during its four-game winning streak from 2006-09: Hansbrough and Danny Green, two of the only four players to beat Coach K four straight times on the court that now bears his name.
Those seniors—plus standout guards Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington— departed after winning a national title, and the players who stuck around have spent a difficult season absorbing their share of lumps, though they have won two straight to stay above .500.
But Duke’s players insisted that the Tar Heels’ struggles haven’t taken any of the luster off the rivalry.
“A win against Carolina is a win against Carolina,” center Brian Zoubek said. “Just because they’re struggling doesn’t mean it’s going to be any easier of a game. They circle this on their schedule, and we do, too.”
Maybe, but there’s no question Duke has a lot more on the line. A win by the Blue Devils, who hold the tiebreaker advantage with Maryland, would give them their 12th regular-season title and the No. 1 seed in next week’s ACC tournament. The Terrapins face Virginia, which is one game out of the ACC’s cellar, in their finale.
It’s also the final game at Cameron for Scheyer, Zoubek and Lance Thomas, a senior class that has won 105 games.
“I told (Scheyer), ‘I’m going to play like it’s my senior game,”’ Duke junior Nolan Smith said with a smile, emphasizing that he’ll be back for his final season. “I’m definitely going to do that, because I want this for him. … I know this is his last game, and try to rub that off on the young guys, the freshmen, the sophomores, so that they’re not looking ahead to, ‘Oh, I have three more years, two more years.”’
Both teams are dealing with the bumps and bruises that generally mark March basketball.
Zoubek, who dislocated his left index finger at Maryland, had gauze wrapped around it on Friday, but both Krzyzewski and the 7-foot-1 center were emphatic that he will play.
North Carolina forward Deon Thompson is battling sore back muscles, an injury coach Roy Williams said was “the biggest question mark” and the 21-year-old Thompson jokingly referred to as “just age, man.” Also, swingman Will Graves has been in a boot and has “continually sprained his ankle either every game or in every practice for the last two weeks,” Williams said.
Williams expects both to play, and that will make it the 146th game of Thompson’s career—breaking Green’s 1-year-old school record.
“I’m feeling that they will (play),” Williams said. “I’m not trying to paint a picture—‘Oh, we’re not going to have them.’ I really think they will, but it’s hard to be as effective if you’re as limited as they are with what they can do.”