An epic night in New Orleans: The end of Coach K’s career doubles as the peak moment in the Duke-UNC rivalry

NEW ORLEANS — As if Duke-North Carolina wouldn’t exceed the astronomical levels of hype.

As if we were getting anything other than one of the greatest games in Final Four history.

“It was a game that the winner was going to be joyous and the loser was going to be in agony,” Mike Krzyzewski said. “And that’s the type of game we expected.”

Some things are destined for iconic status. North Carolina’s 81-77 national semifinal victory against Duke immediately logs in that category. The eighth-seeded Tar Heels not only won their first and only NCAA Tournament against their despised rival, but also booted Krzyzewski off the stage and out of this tournament, ending his peerless 47-year career with a loss so infamous that it goes into an echelon of its own genre.

North Carolina, you just achieved the biggest rivalry victory American sports has ever seen. And there’s still a national title game against Kansas to be played on Monday night. That might feel like a scrimmage in comparison to the weeklong buildup and world-squeezing anticipation of Blue Devils vs. Tar Heels. Saturday night provided enough stakes to burn this feud for another few decades.

Then they went out and played the game and put on an all-time basketball classic.

For Duke and Krzyzewski, the ending comes one game and two days too soon. For as great and composed as Duke looked in its previous four NCAA Tournament games, none of those involved North Carolina. It’s just different when these two share 94×50 feet of hardwood. A magic tends to ensnare all involved, while the rest of us spectators all too willingly get sucked right in. What transpired inside Caesars Superdome on this night felt different. Felt special.

Felt like we’ll never experience something like this again. That’s because we won’t.

We just witnessed the end of one of the greatest coaching careers in all of sports, and to declare it happened in dramatic fashion…

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