A basketball comeback has its own wonderful sense of momentum. It forms like a wave deep in the ocean, curling toward the beach with a sense of furious purpose. You can see it from way out.
Sometimes, it fades away. The whitecap dissolves quietly back into the water, just short of the goal. But the best comebacks crash their way onto the shore and into history.
Duke and North Carolina play basketball for the 234th time tonight with the ACC regular-season championship at stake once again. Here are my picks - counting down from No. 5 to No. 1 - for the best comebacks ever in this remarkable rivalry.
No. 5 Fabulous Fred
Obscure Duke reserve Fred Lind had barely played all season, averaging less than one point per game. But in 1968, he came off the bench against a North Carolina team that featured Larry Miller and Charlie Scott when a Duke starter fouled out.
Lind then had the game of his life. He scored 16 points, grabbed nine rebounds, forced two of the overtime periods with late points and ultimately was the biggest star in the Blue Devils' 87-86 triple OT win of 1968.
No. 4 Marvin Williams' 3
In 2005, the Tar Heels scored the game's final 11 points in Chapel Hill to come back from nine down with 2 minutes, 40 seconds to play to edge Duke, 75-73.
Coach Roy Williams has said numerous times that he has never heard the Smith Center louder than when Williams grabbed a missed Raymond Felton free throw, scored and got fouled to put the Tar Heels ahead. Williams then converted the old-fashioned three-point play.
But that didn't end it. Duke still had a fine chance to win, but J.J. Redick (who didn't score in the second half) saw a 3-pointer go halfway in before rimming out in the final 10 seconds.
No. 3 Jeff Capel's three
In 1995, Duke wasn't very good and coach Mike Krzyzewski was out because of illness. The Tar Heels were very good. Duke entered the game freefalling and 0-7 in the ACC. North Carolina entered with a No. 2 national ranking.
But the Blue Devils rose up and overcame an early 17-point deficit at Cameron Indoor Stadium. This game zigzagged as much as any game in the series ever has. Duke actually led by 12 in the second half before the Tar Heels came back.
It went into overtime. And then Duke came back from - yes - eight points down with 17 seconds to go in the first overtime period. The last three points came when Duke's Jeff Capel nailed a running 30-footer at the buzzer - still a shot so famous that it is often incorrectly assumed that it won the game for the Blue Devils. UNC actually won in double OT, 102-100.
No. 2 Rivers over Zeller
This was just last month, so you remember it well. It either has haunted you or sustained you, depending on which shade of blue you favor. The Tar Heels were up by 10 points with less than three minutes left, but kept missing free throws while Duke kept hitting clutch shots.
Then, the unbelievable finale. After Tyler Zeller missed a free throw, he found himself playing defense on Duke freshman guard Austin Rivers near the 3-point line following a defensive switch. Zeller didn't get out far enough, Rivers lined up a 3 from the right wing at the buzzer and nailed it as the backboard blinked red to signify that the clock had run out. Duke won a classic, 85-84, and hasn't since entering tonight's contest.
No. 1 Eight points in 17 seconds
To me, this comeback remains the series' best because of the degree of difficulty - mostly based on the fact it came without the benefit of the three-pointer. It edges Rivers' 3-pointer, but the margin is slim.
In 1974, the Tar Heels were down by eight points to Duke with 17 seconds to go. But the Tar Heels kept scoring, stealing the ball and scoring again behind the leadership of Bobby Jones. Still, they needed a missed Duke free throw and a banked-in Walter Davis prayer from about 30 feet to force the overtime, which the Tar Heels then won.
One more note about that game: A high school star named Phil Ford who couldn't wait to play for the Tar Heels was watching the game on TV in Rocky Mount with his father. Ford was so disgusted when UNC fell so far behind in the final minute that he went outside to wash the family car and blow off some steam. He missed the entire comeback.
Scott Fowler: 704-358-5140; firstname.lastname@example.org