The streak began with a game that ended with students – and anyone who was there, really – rushing the Smith Center court for the first time. It was 1992 and North Carolina had just beaten Duke, then undefeated and ranked No. 1 nationally, in a game that still resonates.
“Oh my goodness, I was enjoying it,” Hubert Davis, now a UNC assistant but then a Tar Heels senior guard, said recently. “I enjoyed it there and I enjoyed it on Franklin Street. Had a great time. I was 20. ... It was awesome.”
It was the start, too, of a run of Chapel Hill dominance for the Tar Heels against the Blue Devils. Between 1992 and 1998, UNC won seven consecutive games against Duke at the Smith Center.
In the 16 years since, the Tar Heels have won just six times against Duke at home. UNC during that span hasn’t managed even to win consecutive home games against the Blue Devils.
If UNC defeats Duke on Saturday night at the Smith Center, it would represent the Tar Heels’ first home winning streak against the Blue Devils since that run of seven consecutive home victories during the 1990s.
UNC beat Duke a season ago at the Smith Center but lost the previous two at home – the first of those defeats, in 2012, when Austin Rivers made a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
UNC’s recent relative home struggles against Duke are difficult to explain, though some of the defeats have come amid long seasons. On its way to finishing the 2009-10 season in the NIT, UNC scored just 54 points in a home loss against the Blue Devils, who went on to win the national championship. Nearly a decade earlier, a UNC team that finished 8-20 lost by nearly 30 points at home against the Blue Devils.
Even some of the Tar Heels’ best teams, though, haven’t had success against Duke in Chapel Hill. Like in 2012. And when Tyler Hansbrough was still around.
The Hansbrough-led UNC teams of the mid-to-late 2000s never won consecutive home games against the Blue Devils. Hansbrough was undefeated, a perfect 4-0, against Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium, but just 2-2 against Duke in Chapel Hill.
Since the 1998-99 season, the Tar Heels are 6-10 against Duke at home and 87-22 against the rest of the ACC. No other ACC team has beaten UNC more than four times in the Smith Center during that span.
The Smith Center crowd, which drew the ire of UNC coach Roy Williams recently for lacking energy, will be at its most boisterous – as it always is – on Saturday night. Williams said recently he hopes his team does its part.
If it does the Tar Heels could find themselves with something they haven’t had in a long while: a home winning streak against their fiercest rival.
Home wins vs. Duke once were routine for UNC. Dean Smith (and then Bill Guthridge) lost just four home games to the Blue Devils from 1970-1998 – but the Tar Heels are just 6-10 at the Smith Center since then, by far their worst record against ACC teams. They also haven’t recorded home wins over Duke in consecutive years since 1998.
Consecutive home wins
* The most recent home winning streak is active.