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Duke-State: The Rivalry Reborn
Courtesy: Al Featherston,
Release: 01/11/2013
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Photo Courtesy: Duke Photography
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DURHAM -- Duke-North Carolina is without question or debate the greatest rivalry in college basketball.

But Duke’s 101-year duel with N.C. State has had a special quality too. Indeed, there is a strange link between the two programs, located barely 25 miles apart. The two schools have traded coaches, broadcasters and stadium design. They’ve teamed to defend the ACC Tournament when it was under assault from coaches who hated the postseason event. And for many, many seasons over the last century, Duke and N.C. State have battled for conference supremacy.

That hasn’t happened often in recent years as N.C. State basketball has stagnated since Jim Valvano’s departure in 1990. But second-year coach Mark Gottfried has re-invigorated the once-great Wolfpack program, so that when No. 1 Duke travels to Raleigh Saturday to meet the No. 20 Wolfpack, it will be a game for early control of the ACC.

Krzyzewski arrived at Duke in the spring of 1980 – just a couple of weeks before N.C. State hired Valvano. The two young coaches built their programs at the same time from under the shadows of Dean Smith’s juggernaut in Chapel Hill. And it wasn’t just Smith – with Lefty Driesell at Maryland, Terry Holland at Virginia and Carl Tacy at Wake Forest (not to mention young Bobby Cremins trying to kickstart his program at Georgia Tech), the ACC was probably never stronger than it was in the 1980s. The two young coaches literally had to build a national contender to become competitive in the ACC.

Valvano had more immediate success, winning the 1983 national title with his Cardiac Kids, but as the decade of the 1980s wore on, Coach K began to get the upper hand, beginning his run of seven Final Fours in nine years.

The gap between the two programs widened when Valvano was forced out in Raleigh. Ironically, the two coaches – bitter rivals when they dueled each other – would develop as deep friendship in the early 1990s as Valvano was diagnosed with cancer, undergoing treatment at Duke Hospital.

In the years since Valvano’s departure, Krzyzewski has seized control of the rivalry with N.C. State. Just 9-14 against Jimmy V in the 1980s, Krzyzewski has gone 39-6 against the Pack since. More importantly, since 1990, Duke has won four national championships, played in seven Final Fours and won 11 ACC championships. N.C. State has no titles of any kind in that span and has finished in the final AP poll just once – a No. 15 finish in 2004.

Still, the Wolfpack and Blue Devils have played some significant games in recent years.

N.C. State has twice knocked Duke out early in the ACC Tournament – Herb Sendek’s first Wolfpack team stunned top-seeded Duke in the 1997 quarterfinals, while Sidney Lowe’s first team knocked over Duke in overtime in the first round of the 2007 tournament.

But for the most part, Duke has dominated when it counted. The Devils have had seven ACC Tournament victories over the Pack in the last 20 years, including championship game victories in 2002 and 2003.

That 2003 triumph in Greensboro featured one of the great comebacks in Duke history. The Blue Devils rallied from a 55-43 deficit with just over 10 minutes to play as freshman J.J. Redick poured in 21 of his game-high 30 points in the final 10:06.

Duke has had two other amazing comebacks in recent years against the Pack.

One came in Raleigh on March 1, 2008, when Duke – which had trailed the entire game, outscored N.C. State 14-5 down the stretch to pull out an 87-86 victory on two free throws by DeMarcus Nelson. The win was significant, giving Coach K the 800th victory of his career.

At the time, Krzyzewski had a hard time putting the milestone into perspective.

“It is hard because you're coaching this team, and it’s more important what this team is doing than what you’ve done with other teams,” the Duke coach said.

Even that remarkable rally didn’t compare to what Duke did to the Wolfpack last season in Durham. The Blue Devils – eight days after pulling out a dramatic comeback victory in Chapel Hill – got off to a horrific start against N.C. State, missing 11 of their first 12 shots to fall behind early. Down 46-30 at the half, the margin stretched to 20 points when N.C. State’s Lorenzo Brown hit a free throw to give the Pack a 61-41 lead with 11:33 to play.

That’s when Seth Curry, hobbled by an injury early in the game, started the Blue Devils on the road back, hitting a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Curry would score 21 of his game-high 26 in the second half. He got help from freshman Austin Rivers who scored nine points during a late 16-3 run – including a long 3-pointer that was almost a carbon copy of the shot he hit to beat UNC the previous week. That shot gave Duke its first lead, a margin the Devils were able to protect the rest of the way. The Devils were up three when State’s Brown missed a contested 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds left. Curry rebounded and his two clinching free throws gave Duke the 78-73 victory.

“That’s really one of the most amazing games I’ve ever been a part of,” Krzyzewski said afterwards.

Unfortunately, that was the only meeting between the two old rivals last season. They could have met in the ACC Tournament title game in Atlanta, but both N.C. State and Duke suffered narrow losses in the semifinals.

Duke and N.C. State met for the first time on February 9, 1912.

Actually, the first game in the rivalry was between Trinity College and North Carolina A&M. Neither team had acquired its now familiar nickname. The boys from Trinity were known as “the Methodists”, while the A&M teams were generally labeled “the Farmers”.

Trinity, which evolved into Duke University in the ‘20s, dominated the early days of the rivalry. However, when young coach Eddie Cameron first took Duke to Atlanta for the Southern Conference Basketball Tournament, he ran afoul of the team from Raleigh, which had become N.C. State College.

The 1929 Blue Devils (the nickname having recently been adopted) were led by future major league baseball star Bill Werber and big man Joe Croson. They cruised past Alabama, North Carolina and Kentucky to reach the tournament championship game – but lost 43-30 to Gus Tebell’s Farmers in the finals.

One interesting note – the two coaches in that ’29 title game – Cameron and Tebell – would be the only two coaches in Southern Conference history to guide teams to both the league’s football and basketball championships.

Cameron would get his first basketball title in 1938, when he led his unheralded “Never-a-Dull-Moment Boys” to the 1938 championship. Duke had to beat heavily favored N.C. State – led by future NFL standout Connie Mack Berry – in the semifinals of that tournament.

That title marked the start of Duke’s first real run of dominance on Tobacco Road. Between 1938 and 1946, the Blue Devils won five Southern Conference titles – the first three under Cameron, the last two under Gerry Gerard. Perhaps the most notable came in 1942, when Duke routed N.C. State in the title game to cap a 22-2 season – the best in school history to that point. It was the last basketball game Cameron would coach at Duke.

A notable aspect of the ’42 Duke-N.C. State title game was that both teams were led by stars off Durham High’s famous basketball team that won 71 straight games between 1939 and 1941. The Blue Devils got the bulk of the team, including standouts such as Robert Gantt, Gordon Carver and the Loftis brothers. But the Red Terrors (as the Farmers had become known) featured the biggest Durham High star of all – future Hall of Famer Bones McKinney.

While Duke generally had the upper hand in the rivalry after opening its magnificent Indoor Stadium in 1940, a coaching hire in the spring of 1946 would change the dynamic almost overnight.

N.C. State, which despaired of competing with Duke and North Carolina on the football field, made the decision to bid for basketball glory. The first step in that plan – made just before the opening of World War II – was to build a new basketball stadium. The original plan for what would become Reynolds Coliseum was almost a carbon copy of Duke’s Indoor Stadium.

The steel frames had gone up in the fall of 1941 before the United States entry into World War II stopped production and left N.C. State’s plans to emphasize basketball into limbo. When the war ended, school officials, ready to try again, looked for a replacement for the ineffective Leroy Jay (28-45 in four seasons).

Their coaching search was steered in the right direction by a Duke graduate. Dick Herbert, the sports editor of the Raleigh News and Observer, suggested that State officials go to Chuck Taylor, a pioneer in basketball shoe design and sales, who had contacts with every coach in the country. It was Taylor who suggested that the school go after a Lt. Commander in the Navy – a former Indiana high school coach who was just about to get out of the service.

Everett Case came to Raleigh in the spring of 1946, just a few weeks after Duke defeated Wake Forest to win the 1946 Southern Conference title.

Case would end Duke’s Southern Conference reign with dramatic suddenness. Inheriting one holdover from a 6-12 team, the Indiana prep legend (the first coach to win four state titles there) promptly retooled with a team of Navy veterans and Indiana natives. His Hoosier Hotshots promptly won 26 games, including an 11-2 run in the Southern Conference. One of the two losses was to Duke in Durham, but the Red Terrors (the Wolfpack nickname still a couple of years away) blitzed the Devils in Raleigh just before the Southern Conference Tournament.

Case’s arrival – and his team’s fast-paced style of play – excited fans on Tobacco Road in a way they had never been excited about basketball. Interest grew so quickly that just weeks before the Southern Conference Tournament was due to open in the Raleigh Auditorium – a 4,700-seat facility that had hosted the event since 1933 – Case went to Duke’s Cameron, who was chairman of the Southern Conference basketball committee, and suggested they move the tournament to Duke’s 8,800 seat (at that time) Indoor Stadium.

The last-minute switch went off with a hitch and the tourney averaged more than 8,000 fans a session in Durham. It was the start of the basketball hysteria that would transform Tobacco Road into one of the nation’s basketball hotbeds.

It was also the start of Case’s dominance of the Southern Conference – a dominance that continued into the early days of the ACC after it was formed in the spring of 1953.

Case got construction of N.C. State’s long-planned basketball arena going again. He demanded that the design by enlarged to make it bigger than Duke’s facility. But since the steel frames were already in place, the only way to expand was in the end zones – hence Reynolds Coliseum acquired its distinctive, elongated shape.

Case’s determination to make Reynolds bigger than Duke Indoor Stadium was just once instance of the Gray Fox’s duel with Duke. In those years, the Blue Devils were the team that he had to beat to rule the conference. And to Duke’s frustration, that’s just what he did.

Oh, the Blue Devils won their share of regular season games in that span, but when it mattered, Case always won. He beat the Devils in five conference title games (and twice in the semifinals) between 1948 and 1956. Duke got so frustrated by finishing second to the Gray Fox that Cameron finally hired Case’s right-hand man, Vic Bubas, to revive its program.

Bubas did that right away – winning the ACC1960 ACC championship in the first season, then earning three ACC titles and making three Final Four trips in four years between 1963-66. His one miss was in 1965, when N.C. State upset the top-seeded Blue Devils in the ACC Tournament title game.

Despite Duke’s long struggle to beat Case, the Duke-N.C. State rivalry was a friendly one, thanks to the bond between Duke’s Cameron and N.C. State athletic director Roy Clogston. It was the long alliance between the two administrators that shaped the basketball landscape of the new ACC in the early 1950s and defended the fledgling ACC Tournament from a multitude of early critics.

But the tenor of the rivalry changed in the spring of 1966, when N.C. State hired Norm Sloan as head coach.

Sloan had been a member of Case’s first recruiting class in Raleigh and he saw significant action for the 1946-47 Red Terrors. But a year later, Bubas arrived from Gary, Indiana, and the freshman guard supplanted Sloan in the lineup. It was a disappointment that Sloan never forgot or forgave. When he returned to Raleigh two decades later as the new Wolfpack coach, he set his sights on the man who had ruined his playing career.

Sloan lost his first four games against Bubas and Duke. But in the fifth – in the semifinals of the 1968 ACC Tournament – he engineered one of the more amazing upsets in tournament history. Convinced that his smaller Pack couldn’t compete with Bubas’ huge frontline (anchored by All-American center Mike Lewis), he ordered his team to hold the ball until Bubas came out of his zone. The tactic turned into an all-out stall when Bubas refused to change defenses. N.C. State ended up winning 12-10, the lowest scoring game in ACC history.

The deep freeze game inaugurated a decade of Wolfpack dominance in the series (17 wins in the next 21 games) that wasn’t broken until Bill Foster’s 1978 Blue Devils turned the tables and set the stage for the great Krzyzewski-Valvano duels in the 1980s.

Duke and N.C. State always played at least twice a season when the ACC played a balanced home-and-home schedule. Those two league matchups were often supplemented by early season matchups – the first Dixie Classic, then the Big Four Tournament, plus the frequent ACC Tournament encounters.

The two teams have met 236 times in the first 100 years of the rivalry. Actually, they’ve only met 235 times, but Duke earned a forfeit victory in 1917 to give the Blue Devils a 137-97 edge in the series. Unlike the disputed forfeit in the Duke-UNC football series, N.C. State acknowledges its 1917 forfeit. The 236 games are the second-most in Duke history, just behind the 238 Duke-Wake Forest encounters and just ahead of the 234 Duke-UNC meetings.

Unfortunately, the Duke-State encounters have become relative infrequent in recent years. When the ACC adopted its unbalanced schedule in 2005, each team was given two “traditional” partners. Duke-UNC was a given. Historically, N.C. State should have been the Blue Devils’ other partner.

However, at the time, the Duke-Maryland series was hot and the television networks wanted to guarantee two Duke-Maryland games a year. As a result, Duke and N.C. State have  usually met once a season. Indeed, the two teams have met just 10 times in the last seven years – one of those in the 2007 ACC Tournament.

The Blue Devils and Wolfpack will meet twice this year, thanks to the ACC’s new 18-game conference schedule. In addition to Saturday’s game in Raleigh, the two teams will face off Feb. 7 in Durham.

There could be a third meeting in the ACC Tournament in Greensboro. Since the Devils and Pack are the ACC’s only two ranked teams at the moment, that’s not a farfetched possibility.

It’s also the kind of thing that could re-invigorate the long-dormant rivalry.