With five minutes to go, the exodus began.
Three minutes later, there were more Carolina Blue seats visible than Carolina Blue jerseys in the Dean E. Smith Center on Saturday.
Booming boos from remaining supporters continued in Duke’s direction, but the rival fans embraced it. Members of the Blue Devils’ bench threw up their arms and motioned for more. There was no denying what had taken place on the court over the previous two hours — from beginning to end, Duke dominated its biggest rivals on their own home court.
Less than 10 minutes into the contest, the Blue Devil lead ballooned to 21 points. Even after a glimmer of Tar Heel hope shined through to end the first half, the lead never shrunk below double-digits. Every moment of joy for the 21,750 member crowd at the Smith Center was followed by an even longer bout with misery.
When the final buzzer sounded, the scoreboard told the story of the game: Duke 87, UNC 67.
For three years, the North Carolina men’s basketball team has put together subpar seasons per the usual expectations of the program. Despite this, before Saturday, the Tar Heels had split their series with Duke, 2-2, in this stretch — keeping each game respectable, even in the worst of times.
But in this particular rendition of the rivalry, there were only a handful of moments that UNC looked to be near Duke’s level.
“We got punched in the mouth,” senior forward Leaky Black said. “Five minutes into the game, I guess we just started panicking.”
Just past the 15-minute mark of the first half, UNC’s deficit had reached 14 points, and while it continued to grow throughout the middle of the half, a small run to end the frame reignited some hope.