DURHAM, N.C. – Jeremy Roach had heard enough.
All season he’d been the single reference point. The only returning starter from last year’s Duke team that suffered losses to North Carolina that forever altered the narrative of college basketball’s greatest rivalry. All week, the junior captain had politely fielded questions about the lingering pain of those defeats. All week, he was forced to smile and pretend this was just another game.
But when it came down to the final moments in Saturday’s 63-57 victory against the Tar Heels, it was Roach who created a new narrative for himself. He blew by UNC’s R.J. Davis for a contested layup to give Duke a four-point lead with 23 seconds remaining, a play that his first-year coach drew up for him out of a timeout.
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He grabbed the ensuing defensive rebound off a miss from Pete Nance, was fouled and sent to the free throw line for a one-and-one. Freshman teammate Kyle Filipowski grabbed his arm on the way to the free-throw line.
“This is what we worked on in practice,” Filipowski said.
During the week, Duke coaches had pumped in fake crowd noise and blared horns when players took foul shots. Roach had struggled in the past with pivotal free throws. He had learned from failure.
“Damn right,” Roach responded to Filipowski. He then buried both shots, his rival and the past.
“I wanted it to be in my hands,” said Roach, who played all 40 minutes and finished with a game-high 20 points, two blocks and a steal. “I wanted the moment.”
It was the fitting end to a win that was built on mental toughness and defense reliability. UNC entered the game shooting far more free throws than any other ACC team. The Tar Heels only took three in the loss as Dereck Lively II protected the rim during a historic night. His eight blocks were the most by a Duke player in the series’ 259-game history.
UNC shot 34.3% from the field and continued its 3-point struggles. Armando Bacot and Leaky Black combined for 27 points, but Pete Nance, Caleb Love and Davis finished 11-of-41 from the floor.
“Dereck Lively just changed the game,” Duke first-year coach Jon Scheyer said after the win. “His rim protection … I’m so proud.”
Scheyer gushed about his team’s performance and glazed over his own accomplishment. No one had to remind him – a former national champion as a player at Duke – the importance of a win over UNC. He had joked earlier in the week that there was no point in reflecting on last year – the losses in Coach K’s final home game and the national semifinal – because “it would be like me and Jeremy having a conversation with each other.”
Three days later, Scheyer was able to reflect on their journey together.
“I’ve gone through the most with him,” Scheyer said. “Dating back to high school and recruiting him and then him getting injured. For him being the only guy that played last year, we have a special bond because of that. For him to find the consistency of who he is and who he needs to be, I’m just really proud of him for that.”
This article originally appeared on The Fayetteville Observer: Jeremy Roach gets redemption in Duke-North Carolina basketball rivalry