The numbers came exploding at Duke from every which way—33 and 0...15-501...21,444...8...25 and, of course, that old reliable No. 1, as in "We are.... "It was, excuse the expression, a Halestorm of North Carolina color, sound and numbers that enveloped the visiting team last Saturday as the first game in the spanking new Dean E. Smith Student Activities Center on the Chapel Hill campus wound down.
The color was that distinctive robin's egg pastel, and it was everywhere. The sound was a deafening crowd roar that tormented the Dookies into glaring breakdowns, which they acknowledged were the result of their inability to hear one another's signals in their normally rigid help defense. And the numbers were self-explanatory: 33-0, the combined records of the ACC archrivals coming into their titanic poll bowl, a battle for temporary bragging rights to Highway 15-501, not to mention the basketball universe; 21,444, the number of spectators gathered together amid all that blue paint; 8, the number of sections in the state-of-the-art octagonal arena, in which everyone from (whoops, here comes another exploding number) 14 stories on down can face midcourt, if not exactly see midcourt; and 25, the jersey numerals of Steve Hale, North Carolina's senior guard and a coach's son who more than anyone won the Domeday both for his team and for that other coach's son, after whom the new place was named.
Consider the various digits the 6'4" lefty Hale dropped on Duke in Carolina's somewhat-easier-than-it-sounds-but-not-much 95-92 victory, which moved the winner's record to an immaculate 18-0 (the Tar Heels nipped Marquette on Sunday 66-64 for No. 19), dropped Duke to a pitiful 16-1 and earned the Heels the additional spoils of the No. 1 spot in the SI poll. A defensive specialist and 6.7 points-per-game career scorer, Hale had 28 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals in 31 minutes of play while alternately checking Duke's quicker All-America guard, Johnny Dawkins (22 points), and taller, stronger forward David Henderson (24). And though many of Hale's own baskets were the result of backdoor forays behind the same poor Henderson—"I don't feel like I had such a great day. Anybody can make layups," Hale said—his versatility and value to the Tar Heels was never so evident, not even last March when a separated shoulder knocked him, and soon thereafter, Carolina, out of the NCAA tournament.
Even before his injury, Hale had planned to combine careers in orthopedic surgery and Christian missionary work—his dad, Jerry, was once the basketball coach at Oral Roberts—and on Saturday his early second-half operations healed the Heels. They also denied Duke any chance of repeating the 93-77 wipeout of Carolina at this time last year, in this same village under similar circumstances.
January 27, 1986
Similar, but not quite equal. Neither team was undefeated then. There was no mighty Michigan taking its first loss two" days earlier to turn the Duke-Carolina matchup into a battle for the undisputed No. 1 ranking. And they weren't opening the third-largest on-campus arena in the land—after Syracuse's Carrier Dome and Brigham Young's Marriott Center (23.000-seat Rupp Arena is in downtown Lexington, Ky.). All the same, as Henderson said, "We both could be 0-12 and meeting on the street. If it's Duke-Carolina, it's the most intense rivalry of all time."
The Heels' thrashing by Duke last January was so humbling, says Hale, "we had to go back to the drawing board for a month." This time, for the Devils to deal doom in the dazzling dwelling's debut would have been defilement most dastardly; draftsmen might have redesigned the Dean Dome into a dormitory on the spot.
If the circumstances of the occasion—and the result—could have been foreordained, Tar Heel faithful wouldn't have minded waiting 60 years for the Dome, rather than the six it took to get it from the planning to the playing stage. Initially, the building was to have been ready by March 1985, in time for the last few games of Michael Jordan's senior year. That made as much sense as the notion that Jordan would stay in Chapel Hill for a senior year. The next projected ribbon-cutting was this season's opener against UCLA. More delays proved a blessing in disguise—the home team won that thriller by 37 points.
When the target date advanced two months to the Duke game, Smith became understandably worried that such a tough, competitive scrap—albeit a dream game—was to baptize his showplace. "Dean knows they're licking their chops over there," a friend said, gesturing northeast, toward Durham.
The delays caused some last-minute scrambling. On Wednesday, even as workmen were still hammering, sawing and painting things blue, the coach held a rehearsal scrimmage before 5,000 students, to acquaint his team with the noise and surroundings of their new home. And on Domeday eve, Smith hosted a $500-a-plate black-tie buffet scattered throughout the halls, aisles and stands to benefit the College of Arts and Sciences, a sort of athletics-to-academics gesture—or as one reveler suggested, "Heel Aid." The pseudofeast was served on tiny plastic saucers which the well-Heeled could pile with cheese and crackers, and with crab claws that were frozen solid—provided they stood in 20-minute lines. "What do you expect for $500, silverware?" said one would-be diner searching for the food as he shouldered his way through the huddled masses yearning to be fed.
Then came the official announcement that, despite Smith's sincere protestations, the palace would take on the formal name of the king. The $34.8 million Dean Dome, as it surely will forever be known, was privately funded. It boasts a $455,000 sound system, a 15,000-square-foot skylighted roof and a seven-inch-thick cushioned maplewood floor. The building also contains quaint personal touches like a private Jacuzzi for Smith and individual mirrored vanities for the players. What did Hale like best about the place? "The shower heads are so high," he said.
In the first half on Saturday, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski added his own personal stamp to the proceedings when he angrily reproved the officials for their handling of the increasingly rough play inside. "It's a diffferent game playing Carolina," he said to the press afterward. "So many big bodies out there bumping." Krzyzewski had been less diplomatic in his remarks to the refs and drew a damaging technical foul with 7:39 to go. This resulted in a six-point play for the home team—four free throws by Hale followed by a baseline jumper from the impressive freshman springboard, Kevin Madden—which came in the midst of a 13-point swing in a span of 2:25. From 24-18 Duke, it went to 33-26 Carolina, with Hale scoring nine of those points.
With two of the Carolina timbers in foul trouble—Warren Martin and Joe Wolf, each of whom eventually fouled out—Smith started his "small" lineup in the second half, featuring Hale and fellow guards Kenny Smith and freshman Jeff Lebo. He ordered them to take advantage of Duke's overplays and look for backdoor opportunities. "It was ridiculous, the play was there all day," Smith said later.
Whooosh. Hale opened the period with a steal and layup, and three minutes later he had completed three backdoor baskets, two off glorious feeds from center Brad Daugherty (who would also score 23 points and grab 11 rebounds). The Tar Heels led 60-47.
"I can't be two places at once. We became too man-oriented, not a soul back there to help," said the beleaguered Henderson, who could not be faulted for Duke's weakside big men, primarily senior Mark Alarie and frosh Danny Ferry, falling asleep.
"I couldn't hear the signals. We weren't ourselves," said Alarie.
Nor was Dawkins the same greyhound who had scored 59 points in two games against Carolina last season (the second a 78-68 Tar Heel get-back win) and 14 in the first half Saturday. By the time the fleet senior emerged from several minutes' hiding, UNC was leading by 16, 64-48. "But we knew there was too much time left," said Hale. "Duke never dies."
The rejuvenated Tommy Amaker, especially, would be heard from. An exquisitely controlled, mistake-free point guard who in this loss finally came to be recognized as Duke's indispensable man, Amaker, plagued with foul trouble, went scoreless in the first half. But he and the athletic Henderson combined for 34 points in the second and the Blue Devils kept chipping away.
Fortunately for Carolina, always there was Hale to make another deflection or smart pass or enormous bucket. His last pushed the Heels to an 80-69 lead with 5:29 left. Hale kept digging away at the defensive end, and, trying to stop Henderson, he fouled out at 3:37 with the Carolina lead down to seven. But the Smiths (coach and point guard) now waved for the Carolina delay game to save the Smith (building), and even the Tar Heel frosh responded: Lebo and Madden made good on six of six free throws down the stretch.
"Number one. The ranking. The rivalry. The new building. All the hype. It's hard to sense the history of this event now," said Hale. "Coach is a master at preparing us for these things. We're drilled to remember it's only January. Oh, goodness...this isn't the fulfillment of anything."
Oh, goodness. But it's obviously the beginning of still more marvelous basketball days at North Carolina.