Coach K pushed State-Carolina game to background

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski (right) with former N.C. State coach Jim Valvano in the stands before Carolina's March 7, 1993 basketball game with Duke. Valvano died of cancer seven weeks later on April 28.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski (right) with former N.C. State coach Jim Valvano in the stands before Carolina's March 7, 1993 basketball game with Duke. Valvano died of cancer seven weeks later on April 28. Hugh Morton Collection, UNC

Older college basketball fans remember when N.C. State and North Carolina were the main adversaries, and the two best programs, in the ACC.

Mike Krzyzewski helped change all that. His success turned the Triangle dynamic from State-Carolina to Duke-Carolina.

Just compare the ACC by 30-season intervals. From 1954 to 1983, North Carolina had 10 ACC titles, compared to nine for N.C. State and six for Duke.

(Vic Bubas, a former N.C. State player, coached Duke to its first four ACC titles between 1960 and 1966).

Over the first 30 seasons of the ACC, North Carolina and N.C. State each had two national titles while Duke didn’t have any.

The second 30 seasons of the ACC, from 1984 to 2013, tell a different story. Duke had the most ACC titles (13) and NCAA titles (four).

North Carolina had seven ACC titles and three NCAA titles over the same span and N.C. State had one ACC title.

“State-Carolina,” said Les Robinson, a former N.C. State player and coach. “That’s what the rivalry was. There’s no question, Mike changed that. That’s the only thing I don’t like about him.”

Krzyzewski, with his 50-22 record against N.C. State, has caused much angst for the Wolfpack. He has a 41-8 mark against N.C. State since 1990, including a pair of wins in the ACC championship game (in 2002 and 2003).

But don’t confuse angst or dislike from the Wolfpack faithful for a lack of respect.

“His biggest rivals and greatest foes all respect him,” said former N.C. State guard Julius Hodge, who was on the wrong end of the ACC title games in the early 2000s.

“To have as many wins as he does, and to have done it in the ACC, that truly shows how great of a coach he is.”

Krzyzewski’s success against N.C. State was slow at the start. The Wolfpack hired Jim Valvano the same year Duke hired Krzyzewski. The two would become the best of friends before Valvano died in 1993 but they had a great rivalry.

Valvano went 14-9 against Krzyzewksi from the 1980-81 season until Valvano was fired after the 1989-90 season. Valvano’s 5-5 mark at Cameron Indoor Stadium is particularly notable because N.C. State has lost every game against Duke that Krzyzewski has coached at Cameron since 1988.

While Krzyzewski was building Duke into a power, N.C. State fell into the ACC basement after Valvano was ousted. Academic and recruiting restrictions hampered Robinson, who succeeded Valvano.

Robinson won his first game against Duke but lost the next 10 to Krzyzewski, with only two wins against Pete Gaudet during the 1994-95 season in between.

“I didn’t help the rivalry any,” Robinson said.

Robinson wasn’t alone. Herb Sendek had a 3-21 mark against Krzyzewski, including the excruciating 84-77 loss in the 2003 ACC title game.

N.C. State led 55-40 about midway through the second half.

Then, “Coach K let J.J. Redick off the leash and the rest is history,” Hodge said.

Redick scored 30 points to lead the Duke comeback while Hodge, top defensive guard Cliff Crawford and forward Josh Powell were mired in foul trouble.

“Honestly, I don’t even remember the good parts, only the tough ones,” Hodge said. “It was one of those games where you wanted the four zeroes to show up on the clock before Duke could make its comeback. It just didn’t happen.”

Hodge’s teams did beat Duke and Krzyzewski twice – 80-71 in Raleigh in 2003 and 78-74 in Raleigh in 2004. One of the things that struck Hodge was the way Krzyzewski handled defeat and praised the opponent.

“He was always very gracious,” Hodge said. “He has great respect for the game.”

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