Traveling Violations: The beatable Blue Devils
Duke's Gerald Henderson tried to viciously flatten the nose of North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough with his forearm … or the foul was just a innocent byproduct of a physical game and, truth be told, neither starter still should have been in the game except Carolina was trying to run up the score and, to make things worse, the refs had no business immediately declaring it a "combative and confrontational action" that triggered a one-game suspension for Henderson.
There is no middle ground, either. Not with two schools whose middle ground is just eight short miles of southern highway.
Ah, Carolina and Duke. Even during a season in which neither team is its consistently dominating self, even with Mike Krzyzewski admitting "Carolina is better than we are," even on a day when both the game and the crowd were fairly flat, you always can count on something to happen and get everyone fired up.
"I've seen blood before," Henderson said. "It's a physical game."
Hansbrough was not made available to reporters, but his initial reaction didn't portray a guy who took it as just part of "a physical game." He got up looking for retaliation, had to be restrained, shouted at Henderson and was escorted off the court.
"I thought it was something out of a movie," Carolina guard Bobby Frasor said. "He was bloodied and you could see in his eyes he was enraged. It was a hard foul. I was just shocked at how much blood was on his jersey, shoes, the floor.
"He was just so angry," Frasor continued. "When he gets that look in his eyes, you don't want to mess with him."
Duke probably won't have to mess with Hansbrough again this year, which ought to be a relief. The sophomore big man had 28 points and 17 rebounds Saturday when he wasn't even that mad at Duke. Who knows what he'd do now?
The only way the two teams meet in the ACC tournament would be if they both advance to the finals, unlikely the way Duke (22-9, 8-8 ACC) is playing.
The good news for Hansbrough is that apparently nothing was broken. The bad news is that he gets to watch this one replayed ad nauseam and go down in history as part of a particularly violent event in a rivalry not unfamiliar with confrontation.
From the 1961 fight between Duke's Art Heyman and UNC's Larry Brown and Donnie Walsh that amped things up to, most recently, a 2003 incident involving Duke player Andre Buckner and assistant coach Chris Collins against UNC coach Matt Doherty, these things happen around here.
Usually it is all just part of the fun, at least until someone is bleeding all over the place.
Predictably the postgame fallout was full of sincere apologies and concerned comments laced with loaded statements.
Krzyzewski went first and said all the right things, including apologizing to Hansbrough.
He also defended his players' intent – "if there's anyway Gerald Henderson did that intentionally, it's crazy. That's not the way he plays, and that's not the way we play. I know there was no intent to do that. Otherwise you would push your hand out."
Then things got interesting. He questioned why the officials were making the flagrant foul decision immediately, preferring the decision go to the ACC office.
"It may be the right judgment," he said, "[but] you don't want to make a rash judgment."
Finally, he casually mentioned that because the game was lost there really was no reason both teams had star players on the court.
"The game was over before that," he said. "That's unfortunate, too, that those people were in the game in that play."
UNC coach Roy Williams responded to that assertion briskly.
"I don't understand that," Williams said. "I mean, both teams had [stars] in. Gerald was in. In fact, we had a substitute up at [the scorer's table], if you want to go back and look at that. Michael Copeland was sitting [there] because I was trying to get Tyler out of the game."
Said Krzyzewski, "If they're still playing, we're going to still play."
Said Williams, "It's not my fault Tyler got the offensive rebound, and somebody missed the sucker. But that is enough of that junk."
Williams is dreaming if he thinks that is enough. The incident ought to further divide the already divisive fan bases. The message board on rivals.com's Duke fan site already included contingency plans "if the boards crash." Morgan Patrick, morning host of a local sports talk radio station, 620 AM "The Bull," predicted, "It's going to burn up the radio until probably the NCAA tournament. The callers will be nuts."
As for the players, none of the seven players Carolina made available to the media said they saw the actual incident, which was interesting, to say the least.
The Duke ones defended Henderson's intent. For his part Henderson said he didn't try to do anything.
"I was not intentionally trying to hurt anybody," he said. "Obviously it was a foul. I was not trying to hurt or hit the kid."
That is a point of contention that will be open to debate for a long, long time.
While I agree Krzyzewski is correct that Henderson's arm motion was not aggressive, the replays show the ball he presumptively was trying to block was well out of the way.
So while it is believable that Henderson wasn't trying to bust anyone's nose, with the way he jumped into the fray he certainly wasn't trying to not bust anyone's nose. What was going to happen, it seemed, was going to happen. If he hadn't connected with Hansbrough's nose, it would have been just an over-the-line tough foul – the kind that happens often.
But to flat-out excuse it as just part of the game is a bit much. It was almost close enough to reasonably shrug off. But since it wasn't, you can't.
Meanwhile, the Blue Devils have to figure out how to play better in the postseason or they won't have many games left to play. They enter the ACC tournament as a No. 7 seed and now without Henderson. As for the NCAAs, this is the first time in a long time that drawing Duke won't cause widespread panic.
Carolina (25-6, 11-5), meanwhile, won a share of the ACC title with the victory, and Williams believes that if his young team can get hot, anything is possible in the NCAAs. But first they tried to celebrate the regular-season title as best they could.
Hansbrough even climbed the ladder and cut a snippet of net – two plugs of tissue sticking out of his gashed nose. The Smith Center crowd went nuts.
To the victors, even bloodied ones, go the spoils on just another wild Duke-Carolina kind of day.