CHAPEL HILL — Right about the time the Smith Center crowd was mouthing Oer the ramparts we watched, 700 miles away, Jordan Daniels was sinking the free throw that changed what the game would mean entirely.
What had looked at the start of the day as a chance for North Carolina or Duke to establish itself as the main contender to Florida State was now a chance to take control of the ACC, after Daniels and Boston College upset the Seminoles earlier Wednesday night.
Whether the teams in Chapel Hill knew what was on the line or not, they played like it, right down to Austin Rivers 24-footer over Tyler Zeller to clinch an 85-84 Duke win that not only secured its own place in this rivalrys history but turned the ACC standings upside down.
There may be a three-way tie for first place at 7-2, but in one night Duke went from the outside to the thick of the title race.
In control of our own destiny is the word, Duke forward Ryan Kelly said. Were certainly not in control of what other people do. We created an opportunity for ourselves, and now we have to take advantage of it.
The first half might have been the best half of basketball the ACC has seen in a while, up and down the court with furious aggression, and without question the loudest the Smith Center has been in years. There was even a flaring of tensions as Reggie Bullock loomed over a fallen Rivers, too close for Rivers comfort.
North Carolina pressed its advantage inside; Duke fired away from 3-point range, doing exactly what N.C. State didnt even try to do against the Tar Heels two weeks ago.
The second half turned out even better. Harrison Barnes staked North Carolina to a 13-point lead, and the Tar Heels led by 10 with less than three minutes to play, only to struggle at the free throw line down the stretch. Zellers final miss, with 13.9 seconds to play, left the door open for Rivers to put his personal stamp on this rivalry.
Duke, left for dead late in Wednesdays game and in the ACC title race, is now very much alive. All three teams are 7-2, but the regular-season title may just come down to the game between the Seminoles and Blue Devils in Tallahassee in two weeks.
North Carolina, meanwhile, needs help. Theres no rematch with Florida State, and even if North Carolina get vengeance against Duke on March 3, the Tar Heels would lose a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Seminoles. A win Wednesday would have put the Tar Heels in command.
The loss was very different from their 33-point loss at Florida State, but just as damaging to their title hopes.
A loss is a loss, regardless, Barnes said. Were whatever and two in the ACC.
As Florida State prepared to take off outside Boston, the Tar Heels were still holding what appeared to be a secure lead. By the time Curry was standing in the corner screaming at Rivers to shoot, the Seminoles were somewhere over Connecticut on their way up to 36,000 feet, with no idea how the ACC race had changed once their wheels left the ground.
DeCock: twitter.com/LukeDeCock or 919-829-8947