The epic history of the UNC Duke Rivalry


Photos by Wikimedia Commons

Tyler Hansbrough and Josh McRoberts battle for the opening tip-off in the 2006 matchup in Chapel Hill.

Ryan Silver, Assistant Sports Editor

Known as the “Tobacco Road Rivalry,” the matchup between UNC and Duke goes back ages, all the way to Jan. 24, 1920. The Tarheels won the first game 36-25 and set the course for the greatest rivalry in college basketball. In 2021, the UNC-Duke game ended up on the wrong side of history, being the first meeting in which neither school was ranked in the AP top 25 since 1960. 

UNC took the first matchup of the season 91-87 behind 25 points and seven assists from star freshman Caleb Love. In addition, the Tarheels shot 66.7% from behind the three-point line, making 10 out of 15 attempts. This is something they have not seen all season, having posted 32% on three-point shooting this year. Duke made it interesting, overcoming a 12 point second half deficit to tie the game at 79 before UNC pulled away in the final minutes.

“One thing you can always count on is a good game between UNC and Duke, regardless of the season they’re having. I always say when we’re playing Duke we can be up 20 and I’m still not comfortable,” said Shannon Wilkins, science teacher.

Throughout history, the rivalry has boasted some of the most electric college basketball games in history. From Tyler Hansbrough’s bloody nose to Austin Rivers’ game winning shot, the rivalry almost never disappoints. Even in 2020, when a below .500 UNC team took on the #7 ranked Blue Devils, the game came down to the last second, when Wendell Moore hit a putback shot as the clock hit zero in overtime to give Duke the two point win.

“I still think good things are going to happen to this team, but I am not going to do this woe-is-me type BS,” said UNC head coach Roy Williams to “Inside Carolina” following the loss in 2020.

One aspect that adds interest to the matchup is the battle of future Hall of Fame coaches. Mike Krzyzewski took over the Duke job in May 1980 and has since delivered five NCAA Tournament championships. Williams became head coach at UNC in 2003 after previously serving as the assistant coach from 1978 to 1988, and has won three national titles in Chapel Hill. 

“Look, Roy, I know him. We serve the game together, and we’re both very lucky to be in the positions we’re in. But we also know how good the other guy is, the other team, the other program, and I think that’s healthy,” said Krzyzewski via Sports Illustrated.

Both schools have also had multiple Hall of Fame players enter the rivalry. Michael Jordan and Christian Laettner are the most notable, both having won national championships and hitting infamous game winning shots in the NCAA Tournament. Laettner, along with JJ Reddick, Grayson Allen, Hansbrough and others have added a unique twist to the rivalry. These athletes all contributed to the controversy and hate between the schools and left their mark by being exceptionally hated by their rival. 

“I honestly cannot describe how deep the rivalry runs (especially as a student and now alumni). The hatred for Duke on UNCs campus is palpable and unlike any other,” said Wilkins.