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An Unrivaled Rivalry

March 06, 1995
March 06, 1995

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March 6, 1995

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Photo Credits: Heinz Kluetmeier

An Unrivaled Rivalry

When North Carolina and Duke tip off on Saturday night, they will take the finest feud in all of sports to even greater heights

Art Heyman was an innocent when he left Long Island for the Triangle of North Carolina 35 years ago. A saint, no—Heyman played basketball and lived life with a hard-to-the-hole swagger—but a naif just the same. Duke? North Carolina? Heyman could barely tell a Tar Devil from a Blue Heel when he arrived at Raleigh-Durham Airport to play ball for. . . .

This is an article from the March 6, 1995 issue Original Layout

Well, he was going to play for North Carolina. He had even signed a grant-in-aid to attend Chapel Hill. But that was before his campus visit, during which his stepfather said something about Tar Heel coach Frank McGuire running "a factory," and McGuire took offense, and Heyman had to keep the two men from throwing punches at each other.

So Heyman wound up going to Duke, where Vic Bubas had just taken over as coach. "My friends from New York, Larry Brown and Doug Moe, they were at Carolina," Heyman says today. "If Duke hadn't been there to pick me up at the airport, I would have just gone down the road and started school there."

He soon learned that there is no such thing as "just going down" Tobacco Road. In a freshman game against Carolina, Moe, Heyman's supposed friend, spat at him. The next season, with Heyman now playing on the Blue Devil varsity, Brown, who would have been his roommate in Chapel Hill, engaged him in fisticuffs, which escalated into a brawl that required 10 cops to break up. A Durham lawyer with ties to the Tar Heels would swear out an assault warrant against Heyman over an altercation with a North Carolina male cheerleader during the brawl. And Heyman believes private detectives hired by Tar Heel partisans tailed him for the rest of his career, which may explain why as a senior he was arrested at a Myrtle Beach, S.C., motel—where he and a lady friend had checked in as Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Robertson—and charged with transporting a woman across state lines for immoral purposes.

By the time he was named national Player of the Year in 1963, Heyman had been vilified, castigated and pilloried, all in the name of shades of blue. Feelings between the two schools got so hostile that Bubas's daughters famously refused to eat a birthday cake because the color of its icing was too close to Carolina blue. To be sure, there had been earlier flare-ups in this neighborhood feud; when the Blue Devils beat up on McGuire's first teams, in the early 1950s, Duke students mocked the Tar Heel coach by slicking back their hair and donning silly ties, and Blue Devil players dribbled over to the Carolina bench to taunt him. The rivalry would stagnate somewhat during the early 1980s, when the Tar Heels' dominance helped them build what's currently a 115-78 overall lead in the series. But the feud heated up again with the Blue Devils' resurgence later in the decade, and today nothing quite compares to what happens when Duke tips off against North Carolina.

Between them the two schools have won four NCAA titles in 13 years and three of the last four. They account for six of the 20 spots in the last five Final Fours. In the trigonometry of the Triangle that encompasses Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh, Duke and Carolina are straight lines forming a right angle; you won't find their players on public assistance 10 years out or the schools' names in the police blotter of The NCAA News. "All the players know what kind of game it will be, even if one team is starting five scholarship players and the other starts five walk-ons," says Tar Heel guard Jeff McInnis. Like Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer, the two teams can cut each other up in public and then retreat to their adjacent villas and their snifters of brandy, content that they're the very best at what they do.

Last season they met when ranked one-two in the AP poll, and there ensued an appropriately terrific game won by No. 2 North Carolina 89-78. But on Feb. 2 of this season, with the Blue Devils an uncharacteristic 0-7 in the ACC and their coach, Mike Krzyzewski, out for the year with a bad back, and the second-ranked Tar Heels heavily favored, they played an even better game: a 102-100 double-overtime epic of which the winning coach, Carolina's Dean Smith, who has seen a lot, said, "I've never seen anything like it."

That night, a Duke assistant coach says, he witnessed three of the best plays he has ever seen college players make: 6'6" Tar Heel Jerry Stackhouse's in-transition flight past one Duke big man, Cherokee Parks, and over another, Erik Meek, to the far side of the rim for a reverse jam; a tap dunk in traffic by North Carolina's 6'10" Rasheed Wallace; and Parks's block of a dunk attempt by Stackhouse in the final minute of regulation. All three plays were incidental to the evening's greater drama, which actually made ESPN2 color commentator Dick Vitale's hyperventilations seem . . . considered. Animated by excellence, informed by tradition and stoked by proximity, Duke versus North Carolina stands as the one rivalry all other rivalries secretly wish to be.

A glance at the two institutions would never suggest this. The University of North Carolina is a restrained collection of colonial buildings locked in a town-gown clinch with Chapel Hill, a village so archetypally collegiate that once when there was talk of establishing a state zoo, fuddy-duddy senator Jesse Helms (R., N.C.) is said to have suggested simply throwing a fence around the entire place. By contrast, Duke is Gothic, sedate and remote. With an undergraduate student body only a quarter the size of Carolina's and drawn largely from points north, Duke is private in both charter and, in its redoubt up Highway 15-501, situation.

Yet the campuses sit only eight miles apart, and the municipalities of Chapel Hill and Durham abut one another. For several years not long ago, Krzyzewski and Smith had daughters studying with the same piano teacher. Professors at the two schools collaborate on research and team-teach. Students from one campus check out everything from parties to library books at the other.

For years the official capacities of each campus arena crept up in telling increments, with each school expanding its building in turn or reinstalling or reconfiguring seats. All this groping for a recruiting advantage ended in 1986, when the Tar Heels opened their 21,572-seat Dean E. Smith Center. As it happened, at the Dean Dome's first public event Mickie Krzyzewski, Mike's wife, found herself in the only broken seat in the house. Embarrassed, an arena official offered to move her anywhere else. Wife K, steeped in the protocol of the rivalry, proudly refused to budge.

Freshmen arriving in the Triangle go through much the same indoctrination as Heyman did in the meaning of the word clan. "You'll always be my boy," Tar Heel alum and then Chicago Bull Michael Jordan told Chris Collins, a former Bull ball boy, after Collins signed with Duke several years ago. "But now that you're a Dookie, I can't talk to you anymore."

"I think he was kidding," Collins says today.

"Coming from New Jersey, I liked Carolina and Duke," says Tar Heel senior forward Pat Sullivan. "I was friendly with [Blue Devils] Grant Hill, Tony Lang and Kenny Blakeney from summer camps, and my first year I thought we might hang out." Hah. Hanging out is done for only one purpose. "If you beat Carolina, you wanted to go over there the next day," says Hill. Adds former Tar Heel guard Derrick Phelps, "If we won, they'd be seeing us in Durham."

Thus does every meeting take on huge significance. "If you're having a poor season and you beat Carolina, you've had a good season," says former Duke guard Bob Bender, who is now the coach at Washington. "If you're having a great season and you lose twice to Carolina, you've had a tarnished season. And if you lose three times to Carolina . . . well, you've had a tragic season. My junior year we almost played five times: We met them once in the old Big Four tournament, twice in the regular season and once in the ACC tournament. The teams were in the same regional in the NCAAs, but both got beat. Imagine playing a game that intense five times in a year."

You imagine it, and then watch someone who nearly did it shake his head fretfully at the very thought. "It's a good reason," says Bender, "to go to Wake [Forest] or [N.C.] State."

Once vested in the rivalry, the players embrace it spiritedly. Before his last regular-season game, in 1981 against the Tar Heels, Duke's Gene Banks put on a tuxedo and threw roses to the crowd at Cameron. A few hours later, with a second left to play in regulation, Banks stuck a thorn of a turnaround jumper in North Carolina to force overtime in a game the Blue Devils would win 66-65. "It was the closest I've ever felt to being next to God," Banks has said. "And I don't mean that to be blasphemous."

Former Tar Heel James Worthy still tells Smith that he never lost to Duke, because a sprained ankle kept him out of a Carolina loss to the Blue Devils. But no one recalls minor details like Worthy's absence. "It really is the schools, not the players," says Smith. "Like the end of the 1993 season, when we beat them, Grant Hill was out. But there's no asterisk. Only, `We beat Duke.' "

This season the rivalry has spilled into the college basketball press, which is peopled disproportionately by graduates of the two schools. North Carolina alumnus Art Chansky, who edits a Tar Heel annual called Carolina Court, recently wrote a screed in which he called Duke a "haven for hype and hypocrisy." Noting that the line outside Cameron's only women's room forms late in the first half and lasts well beyond intermission, he pronounced Duke's holy shrine a place "where there's more brass in the railings than porcelain in the bathrooms."

A riposte of sorts came from John Feinstein, who reported on ESPN2 in January that Wallace was blowing off classes. "The first thing you have to understand," said Smith in denying the report, "is [John's] a Duke graduate."

"Ever since that comment, it's all I think of," Wallace said on the eve of the teams' game last month. "A couple of days ago I didn't want to get out of bed. Then I thought of Feinstein." Wallace's characterization of the ESPN2 report as "just something to amp the Duke-Carolina game" rang true when he made 10 of 11 shots in the Tar Heels' victory.

The hostility that the rivalry produces sometimes seems outsized, even a little trumped up, because Krzyzewski and Smith have much more in common than their fans care to admit. Each was in his early 30's when he took over at his school. Smith was hung in effigy during his third season, while Krzyzewski might as well have been hung at the same juncture of his career. Each coach took six seasons to win his first ACC title, and for years each bore the rap of not being able to win an NCAA crown despite a string of Final Four appearances. While Smith has won 78% of his games, Krzyzewski, at age 48, has a .738 winning percentage, a record virtually identical to Smith's after the same number of seasons. Each coach has wrought a paradox—Krzyzewski, the West Point-trained conservative, believes in a free-form, almost permissive approach to the game; Smith, a liberal Democrat who campaigned for integrated lunch counters and a nuclear freeze, presides over the nation's most corporate program. And each coach has a voice that seems to emanate from deep inside a considerable honker.

"You know what I really like?" Krzyzewski says through his aquiline proboscis. "We know they're doing it right, and they know we're doing it right. They have their style of doing things, and we have ours. But it's all good. Not just good, it's excellent. And in an environment of excellence, we've made each other better."

Smith has never much cottoned to the push-each-other-to-new-heights theory. "That's like saying I'm not going to work hard unless Duke has a good team," he says through his bulbous schnozz.

But Krzyzewski calls his bluff. "Hey, all I heard [during the 1992-93 season, after Duke had won two straight NCAA titles] was them saying they were tired of us. And if I were them, I would have been tired of us too. Actually, I'm tired of them from 1993 [when Carolina won the title]. The good thing is there's mutual respect among players and coaches."

Mostly it's the fans who cultivate the hatred. Encountering a North Carolina fan, a Dookie will engage in one-upmanship as if it were so much badinage about the weather: The Blue Devils' Mark Alarie scored the first basket in the Dean Dome; Tar Heel great Phil Ford was married in Duke Chapel; the chancellor at Chapel Hill, Paul Hardin III, holds two degrees from Duke; the Blue Devils, in 1979, once led Carolina 7-0 after a half in which the Tar Heels' Rich Yonakor threw up two air balls, an achievement that is believed to have spawned the chant that has since spread from Cameron to every arena in the land. Sometimes a simple name is enough to get a Tar Heel's goat: e.g., that of Fred Lind—the Duke backup center who, after having scored 12 points all season, had 16 points and nine rebounds and made two clutch shots to force two overtimes in the Blue Devils' 87-86 triple-OT victory in '68.

Tar Heel fans simply counter with "Bobby Jones." He stole an inbounds pass and tossed in an off-balance layup in the final second to beat Duke in 1974. Then they go on: Duke athletic director Tom Butters, as chairman of the NCAA Basketball Selection Committee, had to present the championship trophy to Smith in 1993; former Duke president Terry Sanford has two degrees from Carolina; the '74 Tar Heels came back from—remember these numbers, now—eight points down with 17 seconds left in regulation to beat Duke in OT.

The two schools have never met in an NCAA championship game, although it's bound to happen one of these days. Smith is on record as saying he wouldn't mind such a matchup. But Krzyzewski—could he possibly do anything else?—disagrees. He recounts how once, after a North Carolina victory over Duke, a gang of students followed his eldest daughter, Debbie, through the halls of her junior high school in Durham, bumping and taunting her to tears. Even teachers joined in, writing "Go Heels!" in the margins of papers before returning them to her. "I can live with losing to any school," Krzyzewski says. "But what would happen in this area peoplewise if one of us beat the other in the championship game I wouldn't wish on anybody, it would be so horrible."

Each coach insists that there's much more to his job than preparing his team to "beat thy neighbor" several times a year. "It's not like the old Michigan-Ohio State and Nebraska-Oklahoma rivalries in football, where nobody else in our conference can beat us," says Smith. Adds Krzyzewski, "I want to see bumper stickers and T-shirts that say DUKE: ACC CHAMPS, not 81-77." But the coaches' protestations are wasted on the clerks who pack semiconductors down at Research Triangle Park and the farmers who cure leaves in the region's tobacco barns and the members of what are known as "divided families."

Angie and Bennett Roberts live in one such pitiable household. They pay Durham taxes and have a Chapel Hill zip code. She comes from a long conga line of Duke people; he looks at the powder-blue sky and takes it as a sign that the raiments of God himself, like Tar Heel uniforms, are trimmed in Alexander Julian argyle. When Angie was expecting their first child, it was settled: If it was a girl, Mom would tell her bedtime stories about how, when Smith was coaching the 1976 U.S. Olympic team, Mama's family was rooting for the Russians; if it was a boy, Dad would set him on a knee and tell him that they're not called Devils for nothing.

As it happened, Angie gave birth to a girl, Madison. But had she had a boy, it wouldn't have mattered. "I would have had him all day long," she says.

As expectations in both camps have soared during the 1990s—for the first four years of this decade, one school or the other either won an NCAA crown or had the nation's best recruiting class—passions like the Robertses' have become inflamed accordingly. "Duke was the first school to challenge Carolina," says Chansky, who cofounded Four Corners, a Chapel Hill eatery where everything from the decor to the menu would give a Dookie indigestion. "And Duke is the only one to pass Carolina. It's been threatening as hell to Carolina people. There has been some anger, some hurt, some resentment. Plus, there's the natural evolution of things. You have to get old, and Dean is 64. Well, the Duke people must have thought they had that coffin nailed shut. But guess what? He's baaaaack! Duke hasn't kept Dean in coaching or kept him competitive. But it's made him a little more competitive, more keen to coach."

A few years ago a friend with royal-blue bloodlines, the son-in-law of former Duke basketball All-America Dick Groat, gave Chansky a dog. The dog came with a name—Hurley, after then Blue Devil guard Bobby—but Chansky decided not to change it, "because he's short, white, runs a lot and whines occasionally, and besides, I thought it would be a sensitizing experience. And you know what? I haven't minded Duke as much the last few years. Even if there are now six classes of Duke kids who think it's their birthright to go to the Final Four."

Ah, Duke kids. They're the ones who bivouac outside Cameron by the hundreds—sometimes weeks in advance for a game against Carolina. They once chanted "In-hale, ex-hale" at the Tar Heels' Steve Hale when he played with a collapsed lung. They captioned a huge cavity on a page in The Duke Chronicle thusly: "This big, useless white space was put here to remind you of [Tar Heel center] Eric Montross." They brandished signs calling Carolina's Mike O'Koren, who suffered from a skin problem, the OXY-1000 POSTER CHILD. Nowadays they wear T-shirts bearing Smith's likeness and the legend YOU'LL NEVER BE LIKE MIKE.

Over at the Dean Dome the multitudes may be a "wine-and-cheese crowd," as former Florida State guard Sam Cassell pronounced them several years ago, but when Duke comes through they turn hard-liquor-and-limburger. There was such joy when the Tar Heels beat the defending NCAA champion Blue Devils in a 1992 regular-season game that fans stormed the floor and police had to barricade Franklin Street, Chapel Hill's main boulevard. Several months earlier someone had stolen a ball and net from the 1991 Final Four out of the trophy case in the lobby of Cameron. The booty turned up the next day, neatly arrayed around the Old Well on the Carolina campus, along with a writ of penance: "I will not snatch Duke's priceless championship memorabilia"—repeated 100 times.

Scan the sweep of the series, and you can trace each rekindling of the rivalry to a recruit over whom the two schools fought. Heyman never again lost to the Tar Heels after the Brawl, and he went for 40 points against them in his final game. A few years later Smith saved his job when he prevailed upon a Pennsylvania high school star named Larry Miller, whom everyone had expected to attend Duke, to enroll at Chapel Hill; in Miller's senior season the Tar Heels beat the Blue Devils for the first of Smith's many ACC tournament titles.

So it has gone, back and forth, over the years: A player North Carolina sorely wanted, Dick DeVenzio, chose Duke in 1969, and he would have the satisfaction of hearing Smith say, following a 91-83 Blue Devil win in '70, "This game was decided a year ago when Dick DeVenzio decided to go to Duke." The Tar Heels struck back with O'Koren, someone Duke was certain it would sign because as a junior O'Koren had won a New Jersey state high school title while playing alongside a senior named Jim Spanarkel, who had since become the Blue Devils' point guard. Soon thereafter Banks, who turned down Carolina, helped Duke go from sixth to second in the league and reach the '78 NCAA title game.

While the Blue Devils never came close to landing any of the Jordan-Worthy-Sam Perkins triumvirate that delivered Smith's first NCAA crown, in 1982, Duke reestablished itself in '85 with the signing of Danny Ferry, whom Krzyzewski calls "probably the first big-name guy to choose my program over North Carolina's." Since then Coach K has more than held his own, skillfully using the early-signing period to coax such players as Hill, Hurley and Christian Laettner into turning right, not left, off I-40 on their way in from the airport.

Smith can live with the occasional loss of a prospect. "We get Montross," he says. "The next year the best big man is Cherokee Parks, and they get him. I don't get too upset." Adds Krzyzewski, "Some of who-gets-whom has to do with who got the last one."

But the currently lofty level of the series can be traced less to a particular recruit than to a particular moment on a particular night when a particular fist came thundering down hard on the scorer's table. A few days before, president Sanford had upbraided the Duke students for showering condoms and panties on a Maryland player recently involved in an incident with a coed. So, as the top-ranked Tar Heels took the floor at Cameron on Jan. 21, 1984, the students wore halos fashioned out of coat hangers and aluminum foil, and they held aloft unctuous signs bidding A HEARTY WELCOME TO COACH DEAN SMITH AND THE NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS.

With a few minutes left in the first half Smith became exasperated because a player of his wasn't promptly buzzed into the game. He approached the scorer's table, hoping to get someone to stop the clock. When play nonetheless continued, he impulsively tried to sound the horn himself. In his clumsiness he hit the wrong button and put 20 extra points on the board for the Tar Heels. In the ensuing pandemonium, Smith received no technical foul, and North Carolina went on to win. Afterward Krzyzewski was so angry that his pores spoke. "Our students had class, and our team had class," he said. "There was not a person on our bench who was pointing at officials or banging on scorer's tables. . . . So let's get some things straight around here and quit the double standard that exists in this league."

Perhaps it's coincidence, but within a week Krzyzewski, to that point 51-52 at Duke and prospective carrion for buzzardly boosters, signed a five-year contract extension. "When I first got into the league, I didn't want to hang our hats on a win over North Carolina," he says. "Hell, my first four or five years, how would we beat North Carolina? I wanted our own identity. But at that time there were two tiers in the ACC—North Carolina and everybody else. I felt people had fallen into the habit, subconsciously or not, of That's the way it is."

Since the Double Standard Game the series has been virtually even: 15-12 in North Carolina's favor. "So much good has happened to both programs since that [double standard] remark," says Al Featherston of the Durham Herald-Sun, who has witnessed more than 70 games between the Blue Devils and the Tar Heels since 1960. "You might say that Duke and Carolina have become the game's double standard."

Several years later another jolt of voltage coursed through the rivalry. "I consider Dean a friend, even if we don't smoke from the same pack of cigarettes," Krzyzewski said, making catty reference to Smith's habit, since kicked, of supporting the state's biggest cash crop. Around the same time signs saying J.R. CAN'T REID appeared at several of North Carolina's road games, targeting the Tar Heels' J.R. Reid, who is both perfectly literate and black. This angered Smith enough to move him to point out that the combined SAT scores of Reid and another black Tar Heel, Scott Williams, exceeded those of two white Duke players Carolina had also recruited, Ferry and Laettner. Smith has since said he was trying to make a point about the evils of racial stereotyping, but others believe there was more at play. "I think that remark was a sign that Duke was getting to him," says Barry Jacobs, whose book Three Paths to Glory chronicles the interplay between the two schools and N.C. State, which sits some 30 miles away in Raleigh. "It was very un-Dean-like to violate those kids' privacy."

That exchange set up the single most intense renewal of the series, the 1989 ACC tournament final in Atlanta. Carolina had gone seven years without winning the tourney title, and the Tar Heels had lost three times to the Blue Devils the year before, in what Duke folks still call the "Triple Crown Season." People who saw the game, which Carolina won 77-74 after Ferry's 75-footer at the buzzer hit the back of the rim, flinch when they recall it. At one point Krzyzewski, frustrated by the level of contact, screamed at Williams, "Don't foul so hard!"

Up got Smith. "Don't talk to my players!" he hollered.

At this point Krzyzewski turned to Smith and spewed forth a hard Anglo-Saxon monosyllable beginning with f, followed by the second-person pronoun.

There's no evidence that this utterance caused the earth to wobble on its axis. But it's probably safe to say that no one had ever before directed this combination of words at Dean Edwards Smith. And that it took a Duke man to do it is not lost on one erstwhile Blue Devil.

"We," says Art Heyman, with a nod to fellow carpetbaggers Doug Moe and Larry Brown, "started it all."

Down eight, 17 seconds to play. Those were the circumstances, resonant with history, that faced Duke in the first overtime on Feb. 2. It's precisely where North Carolina had stood 21 years earlier, and the Tar Heels had come back and won. So why would anyone doubt that the Blue Devils could do so too? The events of the evening so far had been improbable enough. Carolina had knocked down its first nine shots and taken a 17-point first-half lead after Stackhouse's free throw following that reverse windmill dunk. Then, after the half, Duke sank 12 of its first 14 shots to go ahead by nine. The Devils still led by nine late in the game, only to watch Carolina rally to force the first overtime.

Still, the crew working the Raycom broadcast of the game looked at the Tar Heels' eight-point lead and began rolling the credits. Commentator Billy Packer declared Duke to be 0-8 in the ACC. On Franklin Street, patrons poured from the bars to begin their alfresco celebrations. And that's when Carolina's lead began to disappear into a sort of Triangle Bermuda Triangle.

Duke's Trajan Langdon sank a shot from beyond the arc to make the score 94-89. McInnis dropped in a free throw, but 10 seconds later Blue Devil Jeff Ca pel scored a layup, drew a foul and converted an old-fashioned three-point play. Suddenly Duke trailed only 95-92. Serge Zwikker soon found himself standing at the line for Carolina, contemplating two foul shots with four seconds remaining. He missed the first, then the second, at which point Capel rushed up the floor. Leaping off one foot, he looped the ball toward the hoop from a few steps inside half-court.

From his vantage point Tar Heel guard Pearce Landry knew the shot would fall. "It's the Cameron ghosts,'' he would say. "You know a shot like that is going in as soon as it goes up. You can't fight the ghosts." And so the television guys went nowhere, and the premature celebrants filed back into the boites of Franklin Street, and Packer and Vitale resumed their keening.

Fate didn't come entirely draped in royal blue this time, for Duke didn't win in the second overtime. But only by a few inches—Blue Devil freshman Steve Wojciechowski bounced a 10-footer off the back of the rim just before the buzzer sounded—was Duke deprived of a third overtime in which it might have done unto Carolina what the Tar Heels had once done unto Duke. The two teams merely demonstrated anew that they share something rare and exclusive in their rivalry without rival. "This game went two overtimes because they're Duke and we're Carolina," said guard Donald Williams. "It was the rivalry. Period."

A spot of brandy?

"It didn't matter what the records were," said Parks. "It never matters. It's always like this."

Grand idea. Cheers.

Earlier that evening, an hour or so before the 9 p.m. tip-off, a sportswriter had greeted Pete Gaudet, Krzyzewski's beleaguered, winless-in- the-league stand-in. "Got to do something about these nine-o'clock tips," the sportswriter had said, referring to the deadline difficulties he and his 200 credentialed colleagues would encounter before the night was through.

Gaudet's reply says all that needs saying about the covenant Duke and North Carolina enter into every time they share a court.

"Yeah," he said, "we should be into the second overtime right about now."