The rivalry between the Duke Blue Devils and the North Carolina Tar Heels began on Jan. 24, 1920. After 249 meetings and nearly 100 years later, the rivalry has just grown stronger, as both teams have evolved into college basketball powerhouses. The latest UNC-Duke contest on Feb. 20 saw the Tar Heels emerging victorious in a game that will likely go down in history for reasons that most people likely did not anticipate coming into the contest.
Coming into the match, Duke was ranked #1, touting freshmen phenoms Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, and Cameron Reddish. On the other side was #8 UNC, featuring freshmen Nassir Little and Coby White, as well as seniors Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson. The game drew heavy attention, with ticket prices soaring into the thousands of dollars.
As soon as the game began, it took a quick turn for the worse. Blue Devil superstar Zion Williamson was dribbling the ball near the free throw line, and as he went to plant his left foot, the sole of his Nike PG 2.5’s ripped and opened completely along its outside edge, exposing Williamson’s foot in a gruesome scene. After the scary fall just 34 seconds into the contest, Zion got up off the hard court floor, hopped over to the sideline, and then proceeded to return to the training room, where he would spend the rest of the night. Williamson’s injury was later ruled to be a mild knee sprain.
With the loss of Zion, so too went Duke’s chances of winning. The Tar Heels quickly jumped to a 16-7 lead with the senior duo of Maye and Johnson leading the way. The combined effort of Barrett and Reddish was not enough, as the Blue Devils finished the half trailing 42-32.
The second half of the game was much of the same, with the Tar Heels dominating on both sides of the court. Within four minutes of the half starting, North Carolina was already out to a 22-point lead. The Blue Devils put up a considerable fight, but they were missing too large a piece of their team to mount a comeback. The match would continue like this until the final buzzer sounded, with the Tar Heels coming out with the win, 88-72.
On North Carolina’s side, the aforementioned seniors shined. Maye contributed 30 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, and Johnson added 26 points. Little and White combined for 11 points. For Duke, likely top-five pick Barrett scored 33 points to go along with 13 rebounds, while Reddish put up 27 points.
As a result of his injury, Williamson remained on the sidelines against Syracuse on Feb. 23, although Duke still won. Many critics and professional athletes have told Zion that he should sit out the remainder of the season in order to maintain his health for the NBA draft. Williamson, however, has indicated that he does not plan to sit out once he recovers.
For Nike, the shoe malfunction has had obvious ripple effects on the company as a whole. Its stock market value dropped by $1.1 billion the day after the incident. While it seems like the majority of the damage has already passed, the full impact of the fallout of this fiasco remains to be seen.
While the actual rivalry part of the UNC-Duke rivalry may have been overshadowed by the injury of Zion Williamson, fans still got to see an enjoyable game that could foreshadow a possible matchup in the upcoming March Madness tournament. That being said, the two teams will still face off once more before the season is over on March 9, this time on North Carolina’s home turf. Fans will likely get to see the damage a healthy Zion Williamson can do against UNC’s lineup.