UNC-Duke: Even apparent mismatches can produce magic moments like Capel’s shot

lkeeley@newsobserver.comFebruary 10, 2013 

Duke guard Jeff Capel, who hit a 35-foot shot to send the game into double overtime, helped his struggling team compete with highly ranked UNC on Feb. 2, 1995.

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    Surprise, surprise

    In a rare twist, the Duke-North Carolina game Wednesday will feature one unranked team. In 1995, Jeff Capel’s unranked Duke team almost stunned No. 2 UNC. Since Mike Krzyzewski arrived in 1980-81, four unranked underdogs have taken down the big dog:

    Year;Winner;Loser;Score;Where

    1981;Duke;No. 11 UNC;66-65;Duke

    1990;UNC;No. 8 Duke;79-60;UNC

    1990:UNC;No. 5 Duke;87-75;Duke

    2003;UNC;No. 10 Duke;82-79;UNC

Google “Jeff Capel shot.”

One result pops up.

But as Capel sits in his office, he says that shot – the running 40-footer at the buzzer that sent the 1995 Duke-North Carolina game in Cameron into double overtime – wasn’t the biggest of his career.

It’s the only specific play detailed in his Duke biography and it’s always part of the annual montages shown endlessly on TV as a run-up to the first game, but, he said, it doesn’t even top his personal best list.

The reason: Duke lost 102-100, in double overtime.

“It has always been bittersweet because we lost,” he said. “It was a great shot. Like I said, it’s great, especially for me growing up in this state, I’ve seen the rivalry since I was little. So, to have had a place in the history of the rivalry for that shot has been pretty cool.”

If Duke had won, would it have been the best shot of his career?

“It probably would have been,” Capel said. “If we would have won.”

Players insist there is nothing like Duke vs. North Carolina.

“There have been more meaningful events, like the Final Four, that had more importance, but I don’t think there’s anything that makes you more proud that you went to it or brings more excitement than the UNC games that I played in,” former Duke standout Trajan Langdon said.

The proximity and history make it special. It’s an easy trip across US 15-501 to both campuses, and, at each end, there’s normally a team enjoying great success. Both teams have been ranked in 51 of the past 67 meetings, and, since Mike Krzyzewski arrived at Duke, more than 40 percent of their games have featured two top-10 teams.

Occasionally the matchup doesn’t look as attractive on paper, with one team seemingly holding a clear advantage. That will be the case Wednesday night. Duke will be in the top 5. UNC hasn’t been ranked since Dec. 24.

But some of their best games – like that 1995 meeting – have come in such situations.

“When Carolina and Duke play,” former Tar Heels standout Donald Williams said, “the record goes out the door.”

Shot part of ‘bizarre’ 94-95 season

After a young Mike Krzyzewski worked through a few tough early seasons at Duke in the early 1980s, he established one of college basketball’s most dominant programs. There was one notable exception: the 1994-95 season.

Duke had made seven Final Four appearances in nine seasons and lost 76-72 to Arkansas in the 1994 NCAA championship game. But 12 games into the 94-95 season, Krzyzewski left the team for health reasons, as he was coming off back surgery and battling exhaustion.

“It was very bizarre,” said Capel, a sophomore that season. “When coach went out, for a lot of that time, we didn’t really have contact with him. So we didn’t really know what was going on. At first when we were going to Georgia Tech and found out that he wasn’t going to coach, we thought it was just going to be that game and maybe one more game. And then it became it was going to be probably the rest of the season.”

Assistant coach Pete Gaudet, who also worked with Krzyzewski at Army, took over, and the Blue Devils lost 15 of their remaining 19 games, 11 by seven points or less.

“We did have close games,” Gaudet said. “There was that (Randolph) Childress hit at the end of the Wake game at Duke. I remember Joe Smith getting a tip-in at the buzzer for Maryland that year. We had a chance to win a game at Maryland and at Florida State, I believe. And it just didn’t happen.”

Headed into the first game against UNC, Duke was 0-7 in ACC play and the Tar Heels were ranked No. 2. Led by Williams, a senior, the Tar Heels also had a talented sophomore trio in Jeff McInnis, Jerry Stackhouse, and Rasheed Wallace.

“We weren’t that confident, which hurt us because we had gotten beat seven straight ACC games, but in terms of feeling pressure, when one team is a big favorite, it puts less pressure on the other,” said Duke’s Chris Collins, then a junior. “We shot loose, we played freely. It was just tough when they had Stackhouse and Wallace. They were trotting out NBA All-Stars.”

Before the game, Gaudet told his team he needed a 40-minute effort. He underestimated.

He was going to need 50 minutes.

Big leads, bigger shot

The game couldn’t have started much worse for Duke. The Tar Heels hit their first nine shots, and Stackhouse took the ball from beyond the 3-point arc, slashed to his left, was fouled by Cherokee Parks and Eric Meek but still slammed home a one-handed reverse dunk to put UNC ahead 26-9 midway through the first half.

“That’s one of the greatest dunks that I’ve ever seen,” Williams said. “That set the tone.”

But Duke fought back, going on a 20-4 run to cut the deficit to 30-29. The first half ended when Capel’s shot from just beyond half court hit the front and back of the rim before bouncing out. UNC led 34-29.

Duke took its first lead with a 6-0 run to open the second half. Ricky Price hit a jumper, and the Tar Heels’ 17-point, first-half lead was gone.

The Blue Devils ran their lead to as much as 12 with 9:30 left before UNC rallied. Dante Calabria’s 3 tied the score at 76 with just over four minutes to go.

Free throws from Parks with 19 seconds remaining tied it again at 81 after contact under the basket resulted in Wallace’s fifth foul. He finished with 25 points in 31 minutes and, like Duke’s Meeks, was unavailable the rest of the way.

McInnis had a chance to win it and avoid overtime, but his jump shot clanged off the rim.

“It was like a heavyweight fight,” Williams said. “Both teams were taking each other’s best shots, and no team wanted to fall.

“It was so hot in Cameron, too, that there was a lot of sweat. Even the coaches were sweating. Coach (Dean Smith) sweated through his suit jacket.”

Overtime started just like the game had for Duke: poorly.

The Tar Heels jumped to a 90-81 lead, but Parks hit a 3, Langdon hit a 3, and Price converted a three-point play to trim UNC’s lead to 95-92. While the Tar Heels were shooting free throws, Raycom ran the game-ending credits.

With 4 seconds left, North Carolina’s Serge Zwikker had the chance to seal the game with two free throws. He missed both.

“That’s a guy responding to pressure,” Gaudet said.

Parks grabbed the rebound and fed it ahead to Capel.

“I thought maybe they were going to try to foul,” Capel said. “I knew the time on the clock, I knew how many dribbles I could get. They weren’t pressuring, so I was able to go in a straight line, and I shot it. It felt good.”

And it was, a 40-foot runner from just past halfcourt that swished through to force a second overtime.

“Yeah, the way that game was going, I kind of figured it was going to go in,” Williams said. “When that shot went in, that building went crazy.”

Capel’s shot was Duke’s last highlight, as the Blue Devils never led in the second overtime. An off-balance jumper from Williams and a McInnis steal and basket off the inbounds pass sealed the Tar Heels’ 102-100 victory.

“It was a shame that we couldn’t have had the W,” Gaudet said. “But hey, they fought. The one thing for coaches, it always comes down to work ethic.”

Duke would go on to complete its 13-18 season, also losing at Chapel Hill to finish 2-14 in the ACC.

“Sometimes when you have a lot of success, success can make you soft. And our program had probably gotten soft,” Capel said. “You realize that when it’s your turn, it’s harder. It’s harder when you don’t have Grant (Hill) there, when you don’t have (Antonio) Lang and (Christian) Laettner and (Bobby) Hurley.”

By Capel’s senior year, 1996-97, Duke was back on track, winning the ACC. And, for the first time in eight games, the Blue Devils beat UNC, 80-73.

One day after one of their big wins, Krzyzewski gathered his team.

“Coach was talking to us about what we were doing, as a team, how we were fighting and making people believe in Duke again,” Capel said. “And he said, ‘I got a call last night from Elton Brand, and he told me he wants to come. And I got a call this morning from Shane Battier, and he told me he wants to come. And that’s because of what you guys are doing.’ And I remember being so happy and proud but also thinking gosh, I wish I could play with those guys for a year.

“For me personally to get the program back in the direction that it was when I got here, it was very important for me.”

Capel will always have his place in Duke-UNC history thanks to his shot. Even if it is bittersweet.

Keeley: 919-829-4556; Twitter: @laurakeeley

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