The Duke game was ugly, there’s no doubt about that if you are a Carolina fan.
But, with young kids, that can happen when the unexpected happens. We’re still trying to figure out our roles and we had been playing well. After the great win at Maryland, maybe coming home to the Smith Center made us thought it would be easier at home and we expected to win.
Duke came out on fire and got the big lead. When that happens, a young team can hit the panic button and try to get it back all at once. We definitely lost our poise instead of trying to stick with it, play better defense and chip away at the lead. But there was a silver lining.
I’m not sure we can play any worse or Duke any better. If we had played like we’d been playing the last six games and still got beat badly, there would be some concern. But, if we play again this weekend, I like our chances to give them a good game. When teams are hitting those 3’s, they are hard to beat. And Duke was unconscious that night. For us to be good, we need Reggie and/or P.J. to be unconscious from outside, and both had been shooting really well coming in.
The loss will also insure we’re ready to play Friday against the Florida State-Clemson winner. Both of those teams are dangerous. FSU is big and (Michael) Snair is one of the best all-around players in the ACC. Clemson lost a lot of close games this year and Devin Booker is really tough for his size. We can’t overlook either of those teams, thinking about getting another shot at Duke.
We won two ACC championships in the Greensboro Coliseum when I played, and the first one was really special because we had to beat N.C. State (the defending national champion) to make the NCAA Tournament. We were a fairly young team, with Brad Hoffman as our only senior starter. I was a freshman, Walter (Davis), Kue (John Kuester) and Tommy (LaGarde) were sophomores and Mitch Kupchak a junior. And State had David Thompson and Monte Towe back from its national championship team.
We hung in there, the game was close and the lead changed hands several times before we went ahead for good and Coach Smith called for the Four Corners. What a great thrill that was because we had some bad losses early in the season and really grew up at the end. That’s what I’m hoping for our team this season.
Our second ACC tournament title was in 1977, and that was one of the strangest games I’ve ever played in. Tommy was already out for the season with an injured knee and Walter broke his finger going for a rebound in the first-round win over State. They were draining blood from his finger in the locker room before we went out to play Virginia, and Walter was screaming so much from the training room that some of us were crying.
It was always a rough game against those Virginia teams, and at halftime there was a little scuffle between players and coaches as we left the court down the same narrow hallway. Our coaches were really fired up, and we took the lead in the second half. Virginia had upset us in the 1976 tournament and we really wanted this one. I fouled out and Kue actually had to run the Four Corners, and he was named Most Outstanding Player in the tournament.
That was a lot of fun after we won, but it was pretty intense during the game. With all our injuries, we went all the way to the Final Four in Atlanta before losing to Marquette. So this is the time of the season you want to be playing your best basketball.
Phil Ford was a three-time All-American at UNC, 1978 ACC Player of the Year, NBA Rookie of the Year, an NBA all-star, and was recently inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame.