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What just happened was Duke sucking the air out of Chapel Hill


Duke's Austin Rivers reacts after silencing what was a raucous North Carolina crowd. (Getty Images)  
Duke's Austin Rivers reacts after silencing what was a raucous North Carolina crowd. (Getty Images)  

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- After he had made the game-winning jumper, got covered in teammates and completed an interview that was broadcast live to a national audience that must've been just as stunned as the rest of us, Duke's Austin Rivers jogged off the court beside the North Carolina student section and delivered one last parting shot while looking at and saluting the heartbroken undergraduates.

"See y'all," Rivers yelled with a big smile on his face.

One student cussed at him.

The rest just seemed too confused to respond.

Duke beat North Carolina late Wednesday by the slimmest of margins. The final was 85-84. That's the story from the box score. But the box score doesn't tell this story because this story had so many twists and turns that I can't really even make sense of what happened -- and I get paid to make sense of what happens in basketball games. That's my job. I watch basketball and write about basketball. I've been traveling to games for years. I've seen lots of good games and lots of bad games. But I don't think I've ever seen any game quite like the game I just saw here at the Dean Smith Center.

And Roy Williams is with me.

"I've never seen anything like that," said the North Carolina coach. "But this is North Carolina-Duke."

No, Roy. This is insane.

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At 10:29 local time, North Carolina was pulling away. That's when I tweeted the following: "This is when columnists start writing their columns." And then I started writing my column. I was about 500 words into it when Harrison Barnes scored his 25th point of the game to give North Carolina an 82-72 lead with 2:38 remaining, and all I needed to do was plug in some final numbers, grab a notebook of quotes and file. The fifth-ranked team in the land and on a five-game winning streak was about to beat the team ranked 10th and coming off a home loss to Miami.

This thing was over. It was going to be a simple and predictable night.

Now fast forward to the final buzzer ...

"What just happened?" asked the North Carolina student sitting behind me, and I didn't know what to tell her because I didn't really have an answer. I mean, I knew Tyler Thornton had hit a 3-pointer to cut the North Carolina lead to 82-75 with 2:09 remaining and that Seth Curry had drained a 3-pointer to cut the North Carolina lead to 82-78 with 1:48 left, but it happened so quickly that I wasn't sure exactly how it happened. And I knew Tyler Zeller had deflected a Ryan Kelly shot into the wrong basket to cut his own team's lead to 83-82 with 14.2 seconds remaining, but that might've been the strangest important bucket in college basketball history. And I didn't figure out exactly how that happened until I watched the replay six or seven times in the media room well after the game.

"I was trying to go up for the rebound," Zeller said. "It tipped off my hand and somehow went in."

It got worse for Zeller from there. He only made one of two free throws with 13.9 seconds remaining, which gave Duke the ball down by only two points. Then Zeller got switched onto Rivers in the final seconds and watched what immediately became one of the most famous shots in this rivalry's storied history sail over his outstretched arm and straight into the bottom of the net.

The shot erased what was 130 seconds earlier a 10-point North Carolina lead.

It was awesome and incredible and confusing to everybody -- including Zeller, who just stood there in disbelief not unlike the other 21,750 in attendance.

Meantime, Rivers took off running to the other end of the court. He was eventually toppled by his teammates and completely covered in a pile of blue jerseys filled by players from a school that was on the verge of dropping to 6-3 in the ACC.

That would've had the Blue Devils tied for third in the league.

Instead, they're now 7-2 and tied for first.

And Rivers is the main reason.

He finished with 29 points.

"To hit a game-winner like that is storybook," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "It's what he was put on the planet to do."

To bury big shots.

To ruin premature columns.

To smile and say "see y'all" and leave the rest of us stunned.

Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and college basketball insider for the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts an award-winning radio show in Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two sons and two dogs.

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