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Monday September 20th

Column: For UNC basketball fans, Saturday's win over Duke was a light at the end of the tunnel

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UNC men's basketball faced off against Duke at home at the Smith Center on Saturday, March 6, 2021. UNC finished their season with a sweep of the Duke team, defeating them 91-73. The game also served as senior night for Garrison Brooks, Walker Miller, KJ Smith, and Andrew Platek and marked the Tar Heels as the sixth seed in the ACC Tournament in Greensboro, N.C.

Rejoice, Chapel Hill. Moments like these have been so few and far between — you should take time to appreciate what you have just witnessed. 

The North Carolina men's basketball team has defeated Duke, 91-73, and, for the first time in a very, very long time, there is hope that the world is getting better. 

A year ago, life for this small college town started to come apart the last time the crosstown rivals came to play in the house that Dean built. It would be foolish to think that Tre Jones and Wendell Moore Jr.'s buzzer-beaters were the worst things to happen to this town in 2020, but it would be just as foolish as to pretend it didn't matter greatly to the people who put so much of themselves into this team. 

Chapel Hill's beloved team came apart at the seams that night last February — and then, not long after, so too did the world. It has been an incredibly long, incredibly painful and heartbreaking journey from that moment to now. The miseries everyone has had to endure in the ensuing time are simply too numerous to list. 

Take time to appreciate then what a rare and special time Saturday night was. Senior Night, of all nights, giving so many moments of nothing but pure joy, in a year that found them sorely lacking.

The little-used Walker Miller drawing a charge on the first possession of the game and hearing his name chanted by the small, yet exuberant crowd.

The tears from Garrison Brooks as he checked out one last time, arms raised in jubilation as he reflected on the past four years of his career in Carolina Blue.

And to end it all, a thunderous dunk from Sterling Manley, who had not touched the court during a game in nearly two years due to injury, to seal the blowout win. 

"I don't think there's a single person on this team who wasn't excited throughout the entire game," first-year guard Kerwin Walton said. "We was all making huge plays, making a bunch of shots, throwing some good passes. Making a bunch of hustle plays. I think it's hard to not to get excited from that, especially when everyone's playing so well."

For the roughly 3,200 people in the cavernous Dean Dome, being there in person will make this moment infinitely more special. The decision to allow fans for the last two home games has been and will continue to be scrutinized, as it should be. The pandemic is still raging, screening still remains an imperfect solution and the people who say the risk was simply too great should not be ignored. 

But there's an understated truth in the decision that recognizes our instinctual need, as people, that we have been forced to deny ourselves for so long — the need to congregate together, to be joyous and celebrate the moments that make us happy. 

"When you come to play basketball at North Carolina, you talk about or you hear former players talk about running through that tunnel and hearing that crowd and getting on the court and seeing that Carolina Blue wave out there," Roy Williams said. "So that's something (the players have) missed. And I think the last two games, it's been the loudest 3,200 crowd I've ever seen in my life. They were enthused about it." 

After a night like Saturday, all there is left to do is hope that it marks the beginning of the end for all that we have been through. There is a future quickly approaching when feeling the simple elation of your college beating a rival will not be a rare break from a world otherwise filled with such tragedy. When being happy will not feel so novel. 

Until then, rejoice, Chapel Hill. Rejoice that the light at the end of that tunnel is coming up fast, and then follow in the footsteps of your team and appreciate what you just experienced. 

"You gotta be grateful for moments like these," Brooks said. "I can't really think about the tough times of this year, being in quarantine, having to separate yourself from everyone else. You just gotta cheer this moment with your team." 


@dthsports |

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