CHAPEL HILL — Austin Rivers turned Wednesday night into an instant Duke-vs.-North Carolina basketball classic with a single shot.
But in reality, it was more than just the game-winning jumper that Rivers launched over Tyler Zeller at the final second of Duke's 85-84 win in the Smith Center.
That one shot by Rivers will be remembered for ages and get a high perch in rivalry lore, but the ever confident freshman Blue Devil wing guard was the heart of his team's offense throughout a game that seemed out of Duke's reach for much of the night.
"Rivers has been playing his best ball the last two weeks," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "He believes he should be in games like this. It was just a great, great play.
"We won the last round. I'm not sure we won the entire fight, but we stayed in there and gave ourselves a chance."
At times in the second half, the Devils (20-4, 7-2 ACC) appeared to be rattled and out of sorts as the result of the Tar Heels' overwhelming advantage at point guard.
UNC playmaker Kendall Marshall, with 14 points and eight rebounds, was more than Duke's defense could counter much of the way.
And with Carolina sophomore forward Harrison Barnes scoring 19 of his 25 points in the second half and Zeller getting 19 of his 23 in the first half, the Heels (20-4, 7-2) had every thing going their way.
But in his first appearance in the series, Rivers was a game changer throughout.
With 29 points and six 3-pointers, Rivers kept the perimeter production going that Duke needed to offset Marshall, Barnes and Zeller.
For the game, Duke went 14 of 36 on 3s, while Carolina made one of six.
"We better come out and prove we can be better," Carolina coach Roy Williams said. "We can't start lying around and feeling sorry for ourselves.
"Duke's awfully good. They made more plays in the final few minutes than we did."
Up 82-72 with 2:35 left, the Heels took a combo 3-point punch from Duke's Tyler Thornton and Seth Curry to close it to 82-78 with 1:41 to go. The three by Curry (15 points) was so deep that UNC seemed shocked that he took it, much less converted.
A late turning point occurred when Zeller inadvertently tipped in a Duke miss to make it 83-82 with 14.7 seconds left.
Asked whether he'd seen anything like that before, Williams said no, "but it's Duke-Carolina."
Zeller then hit a free throw to make it 84-82 with 13.9 seconds, setting the stage for Rivers' three from the right wing.
"I still think they're the best team in the league," Krzyzewski said. "We fought like crazy just to stay close, then in the last couple of minutes we got hot.
"Rivers had a magnificent game, obviously. It was storybook really. But (UNC) played really well. They have so many weapons. They're a fabulous team. We feel fortunate to win, but we fought the whole game. We stayed in there."
The final three or four minutes were a perfect reflection of the unpredictability and drama that have made the Carolina-Duke series so special for so long.
Years from now, folks will tell younger fans about the night Rivers hit the game winner. The good news for fans who can embrace the essence of the rivalry is the two will play at least once more this season: March 3 in Durham. And, of course, no one would be surprised to see a third meeting at the ACC Tournament in Atlanta a week later.