Coach K’s final home game was nothing short of beautiful

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I wasn’t on Franklin Street last Saturday night.

But I’ll bet it was glorious.

I’ll be one of the first ones to admit that UNC men’s basketball just hasn’t been the same in recent years.

Early tournament exits, unexpected skids — most notably the hellacious and laughably forgettable 14-19 season in 2019-20 — and, of course, the retirement of coaching legend Roy Williams, have impacted the way I, and plenty of others, feel about the Tar Heels.

I’ve spoken to plenty of people who mention they just don’t watch the games as frequently as they used to, they just feel like they’re in a slump when it comes to their UNC fandom.

And, since we’re being honest here, I’m right there with them.

My time spent watching the Heels has grown less and less over the last few seasons.

I may have the games on in the background or stay up-to-date on the score if I’m busy covering games elsewhere, but I don’t carve out time to watch the team like I used to.

If Carolina’s playing and I have plans, I’ll typically go ahead with those plans. I’ll catch the highlights later.

After spending so many years pouring my heart and soul into the team, from the time I was a kid wearing a miniature Tyler Hansbrough jersey to just a few years ago, when I celebrated the 2017 national title win on Franklin Street as a bright-eyed UNC freshman, I think I’ve just gotten … burned out.

But Saturday’s game was enough to bring out the fire in even the most docile Tar Heels.

In case you live under a rock and missed it, Saturday marked Mike “Coach K” Krzyzewski’s final game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

It was the final home game of a head coaching career that’s spanned 42 years in Durham, racking up over 1,100 wins and five national titles.

So it was only fitting that Coach K’s home finale come against the Tar Heels, his bitter rival that his Blue Devils had just clobbered on Feb. 5, 87-67, on the road.

How perfect would it have been for Coach K to wrap up his career in Durham with a win over Carolina with the world watching?

Because it surely was.

ESPN announced that the game averaged 3.98 million viewers on Saturday, marking the network’s highest-rated college basketball game since 2019.

Tickets to the game — as they usually are for a place like Cameron Indoor, which is the essentially the size of a high-school gym — were through the roof, averaging a price of $5,307 to attend Coach K’s sendoff, the most expensive ticket price for a single game in basketball history, according to Duke Men’s Basketball.

This game — one that many people assumed would be a blowout win for the Blue Devils, who surely couldn’t lose a game of this magnitude — was one of the most anticipated contests in years.

And then, in what seemed like the blink of an eye or, for Duke fans, an unimaginable nightmare, Coach K lost.

The Tar Heels stunned the Blue Devils, 94-81, as they scored 45 points in the final 12 minutes, 33 seconds of game time to secure the win and shock the sports world.

Franklin Street erupted with a storm of an estimated 15,000 students, fans and Chapel Hill residents flooding the streets to celebrate, party and be a little reckless.

It’s a common celebration each time Carolina downs Duke.

But this one just felt a tad more special.

And of course, Duke fans and staff members pouted.

Blue Devils assistant coaches refused to shake UNC Head Coach Hubert Davis’ hand after the game, along with reports coming out later that Duke was upset that UNC didn’t honor Coach K in his final trip to the Dean E. Smith Center in February.

Coach K went as far as to call the game “unacceptable” and apologize to the fans that drained their bank accounts — and, according to one sign in the arena, their child’s inheritance fund — to be in attendance.

My friend, Matt, a lifelong Duke fan that I’ve fought with numerous times thanks to the UNC-Duke rivalry for nearly two decades, sent a text message after the score went final that read: “Worst loss imaginable.”

But for me, and the 15,000-plus on Franklin Street, this couldn’t have been sweeter.

All of the struggles, the mediocrity and the bad losses these last couple of years were absolutely worth suffering through for this moment.

And as long as Duke doesn’t pull out a national title win in early April, I’m already calling this season a win.

In due time, my die-hard UNC fandom will come back around. I’ll get back into the groove of things and begin shifting my winter nights around what time Carolina’s playing and where I can watch it — this, I’m sure of it, is just a phase.

But even if the Tar Heels miss the NCAA Tournament for the next 10 years, I’ll be content.

Saturday night was worth it.

Best win imaginable.

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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