Sunday, March 04, 2007

Duke & Carolina end the regular season on a sour note

North Carolina 86, Duke 72

A vicious foul led to a bloodied Tarheel & ejected Dukie as the 223rd installment of the Tobacco Road rivalry nearly turned into a real backyard brawl.

AP photo

There have been many miraculous moments and incredible plays in this long & storied cross-town rivalry, but not since the early '60s, when Carolina's Larry Brown and Duke's Art Heyman squared off in an on-court brawl that resulted in suspensions for both players, has an edition of the classic contest come to such a pugnacious conclusion.

The game was a disjointed affair all along, pretty much dominated by Carolina save for a few scoring spurts that kept Duke close enough to let them think they had a chance of pulling the upset. But by the last 4:00 of the game, with Carolina up big and garbage time setting in, things started to get a little chippy. It might have had to do with the fact that Deputy Dawg had most of his starters in the game despite the fact that his team was enjoying a comfortable margin (80-65) with little time left (1:04) for a Duke comeback.

With the game well in hand and less than a minute to play the Tarheels scintillating sophomore (Dickie-ism) Tyler Hansbrough went up an grabbed an offensive rebound, then attempted to put the ball back up towards the rim. As he tried to make a move he was hit with a forearm shiver from an airborne Gerald Henderson Jr., resulting in Hansbrough hitting the deck like a ton of bricks. Hansbrough lay prone on the court for a minute, blood trickling down his nose onto the hardwood before he jumped up looking like Jake LaMotta after his St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

After regaining his composure and clearing the blood from his vision, Hansbrough became enraged and looked to take on the entire Duke team. As his teammates held him back, Hansbrough immediately left the court and headed to the locker room as the referees went to the scores table to review the incident and determine what, if any, penalty needed to be meted out.

Upon further review the stripes decided that Henderson's flying elbow smash was a flagrant foul, therefore he was ejected from the game and, according to ACC rules, will be suspended for one game. Thanks to Duke's loss, that game will be Thursday night here in Tampa in the first round of the ACC tourney, in which the Devils are the #7 seed.

After the game there was a lot of talk about whether the play was intentional or not. That notable bastion of superior knowledge Billy Packer thought it was a hard, but unintentional, foul, although other analysts believe Henderson's intent was to do damage to whoever got in the way of his wayward elbow. Either way the play will go down as a black mark in the history of the series, and will also certainly taint the normally saintly Blue Devils, who were not only swept by the 'Heels and have now lost 4 of 5 between the two, but lost some of their respect also. Not to mention the fact that Henderson, an improving freshman who has shown flashes of brilliance this season, will not be remembered for his Vinnie Johnson-like 16 points off the bench, but for one foolish play that will live with him forever.

Especially in Chapel Hill.

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