Duke's Rivers hooked on a feeling

jdaly@newsobserver.comFebruary 9, 2012 

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Duke's Austin Rivers launches a 3-pointer as UNC's Tyler Zeller attempts to defend to win the game 85-84.

CHUCK LIDDY — CHUCK LIDDY - cliddy@newsobserver.com

— Maybe 20 minutes after he knocked down a shot that will forever be associated with his Duke career, Austin Rivers walked back out onto the same Smith Center court for a post-game interview with television.

After finishing the interview, Rivers slapped hands with a couple of Duke fans and thanked them for coming out. As he walked back to the Blue Devils’ locker room, Rivers punched the shoulder of one Duke’s media relations officials and leaned in close.

“This is the best feeling I’ve ever had on the basketball court,” Rivers said, quickly and quietly. “This is the best feeling I’ve ever had.”

In his first taste of the UNC-Duke rivalry, Rivers hit a 3-pointer from the right wing as time expired over the Tar Heels’ Tyler Zeller, lifting the No. 10 Blue Devils to a stunning 85-84 win over No. 5 North Carolina.

Rivers finished with a career-high 29 points, knocking down six 3-pointers.

“He’s really been playing his best basketball the last two weeks,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He’s becoming a really good basketball player.”

In the lead-up to the game, Rivers was asked about a potential one-on-one matchup with Harrison Barnes, a fellow prep phenom. Rivers praised Barnes’ skills before pointing out that he’d be hard to guard, too.

That proved to be the case from the opening tip.

Rivers scored 10 points in the first 4 minutes, making his first four shots to stake the Blue Devils to an early lead.

He tapered off at the end of the first half and for the early part of the second before catching fire toward the end of the game.

With UNC up 80-70 with 2:38 remaining, Rivers hit a shot in the lane. On the Blue Devils’ next trip down the court, Tyler Thornton hit a 3-pointer. Seth Curry followed with a 3-pointer, and Duke was within 82-78.

After Zeller tipped in a Kelly 3-pointer for two more Blue Devils’ points, Zeller then made one of two free throws on the opposite end of the court.

Then came the sequence that seems destined to join Jeff Capel’s long-distance buzzer-beater when highlights from the rivalry are shown on television.

"It was a play just for me and to see if Dre can get open,” Rivers said. “If Dre can get open it's supposed to be a pick and roll and I was supposed to actually try to go to the lane and get fouled. I came off pick and roll and saw Zeller and he was kind of backing off a little bit, so I just shot it with confidence and it fell in."

Daly: 919-829-4954

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