Lucas: Smith Center Top Ten
Release: 11/21/2013

By Adam Lucas

The Dean E. Smith Center hosted its 400th game (and eight millionth fan) on Sunday. The Tar Heels have compiled a 340-60 (.850) record in the building's first 400 games. Here's a look back at the ten most memorable Carolina victories in that stretch:

No. 1: March 6, 2005: Carolina 75, Duke 73

One thing is certain--when Marvin Williams gobbled up a loose ball and fired the ball back into the basket it was the loudest moment in the history of the Smith Center. Louder than George Lynch's dunk. Louder than the snow game. So loud that many fans never heard the official's whistle signaling a Blue Devil foul and awarding Williams one free throw.

He made the shot and Carolina survived last-second shots by J.J. Redick and Daniel Ewing, capping an improbable comeback that saw the Tar Heels recover from a 73-64 deficit with 3:03 to play.

No. 2: Jan. 27, 1993: Carolina 82, Florida State 77

This was a terrific comeback--the Seminoles were up by 21 points in the second half and led 73-54 with less than nine minutes remaining--against a very good FSU team led by Sam Cassell, who had been quite vocal about the Smith Center's shortcomings. A pair of key three-pointers by Henrik Rodl ignited the rally, and Carolina eventually scored 15 straight points.

George Lynch then made the most famous steal in the building's history, pilfering a Charlie Ward crosscourt pass and cruising in for a slam dunk that gave Carolina the lead and nearly caused the sellout crowd to shake the Smith Center's foundations.

"What do you say after that?" Dean Smith said. "You get upset with a team for being down and now it's hard to be mad at them the way they fought and came back against a quality team."

No. 3: Feb. 5, 1992: Carolina 75, Duke 73

Maybe you don't remember any specific plays from this game. Maybe you don't remember that Duke was coming off the 1991 national championship and ranked number-one in the country. Maybe you don't even remember Derrick Phelps's two clutch free throws that provided the margin of victory.

But you absolutely, positively remember this: blood streaming down the face of Eric Montross, the Tar Heel warrior wearing jersey-00 standing defiantly and nailing a couple of free throws despite his wound.

The clash on Feb. 5 was tight throughout--there were 10 lead changes in the first half alone. In addition to his game-sealing free throws, Phelps also grabbed the key last-second rebound (Christian Laettner missed two chances to tie the score in the final seconds) that preserved the game.

No. 4: Feb. 5, 1998: Carolina 97, Duke 73

This was the signature performance of one of Carolina's best teams. The game-matching the nation's top-ranked Blue Devils and second-ranked Tar Heels-essentially featured not just one, but two, blowouts of powerful Duke.

The game was memorable for a sublime performance by Antawn Jamison. The future national Player of the Year scored 35 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, blistering Duke's supposed defensive ace, Shane Battier.

Carolina rushed out to a 50-34 halftime advantage, but an ill-timed technical foul on Makhtar Ndiaye for spiking the basketball allowed Duke to close within 73-69 with 5:40 remaining. But Ed Cota controlled the tempo for the rest of the game, finishing with 12 assists and igniting an 18-0 run over the game's final 3:42.

Had he finished with 13 assists, he might have completed the most memorable play in Smith Center history--a late attempt at an off-the-backboard pass to Vince Carter was thwarted when Carter missed the slam dunk after catching the ball off the glass. The play still remains as one of the signature plays of a very memorable Tar Heel season and the most lopsided game in the series since 1983.

No. 5: Jan. 27, 2000: Carolina 75, Maryland 63

This is the game most fans remember simply as "the snow game."

Tipoff had been pushed back 24 hours because of a 20-inch snowstorm that blanketed the Triangle. But even with the delay, many of the fans across the state couldn't brave the treacherous roads. That created some concern about the intensity of the crowd in a contest Carolina desperately had to win after dropping four straight games.

Those concerns dissipated a few minutes after tipoff. At the first media timeout, with numerous lower level seats still empty, the public address announcer informed fans they could fill in any empty seats. The response was quick--and noisy.

Students clambered over seats in a hurried effort to claim the best available seats. And despite an announced crowd of only 15,455, one of the lowest in the building's history, the Smith Center began to rumble.

Lost in history is the fact that the Tar Heels needed every advantage from the crowd they could get. Maryland opened an 11-point first-half lead and maintained a seven-point advantage at halftime. But a 14-0 Carolina spurt reversed the momentum and opened a 59-50 Tar Heel advantage.

Brendan Haywood made several crucial plays down the stretch, including a follow slam dunk and a pair of free throws with 3:20 remaining. Haywood, who was 10-for-11 from the free throw line, tied his career high with 24 points.

No. 6: Jan. 18, 1986: Carolina 95, Duke 92

The slogan was "Pride Will Build It." As it turned out, thousands of Tar Heels built it, with private donations ranging from a few dollars to a million dollars combining to build a state-of-the-art arena for the nation's premier basketball program. The final price tag was over $34 million, with every cent financed privately. A 25-person steering committee that even had some members who were skeptical of the fundraising possibilities oversaw the project.

The building, which was originally known as the Student Activities Center before being rechristened the Dean E. Smith Center, actually opened a few games late. Originally, the plan had been to open the facility in a made-for-television clash with UCLA. But when the new palace wasn't ready in time, that game had to be played in Carmichael. The Tar Heels played two "last" games in Carmichael Auditorium-one the season finale for the 1984-85 season and another midway through the 1985-86 campaign. But the delay worked out perfectly, because the Smith Center's debut came with top-ranked Carolina taking on third-ranked Duke.

The game was billed as a contest between equals, but Carolina quickly took control. A second-half surge opened a 16-point lead and it took a late Duke rally to make the final score, 95-92, respectable.

No. 7: Dec. 4, 2010: Carolina 75, Kentucky 73

In a game that had five lead changes in the final three minutes, Carolina survived the Wildcats behind a career-high 27 points from Tyler Zeller.

Zeller scored 12 of the final 16 points for the Tar Heels, but the home team still needed one last defensive stand. Up 74-73 with 5.6 seconds left, Dexter Strickland made one of two free throws. The Wildcats were able to grab the rebound and find Doron Lamb near midcourt, but his heave was errant, and Carolina escaped with the victory.

The Tar Heels won the game at the charity stripe, hitting 26 of 37 free throws, including 6-of-6 from Zeller in the final 90 seconds.

No. 8: Jan. 15, 1997: Carolina 59, NC State 56

The Tar Heels were on the verge of falling to 0-4 in the ACC, as NC State held a 56-47 lead with just 2:35 remaining. But that's when one of the best comebacks of the Smith era began, spurred by a harassing defense that forced two key Wolfpack turnovers. State also clanked a couple 1-and-1 free throws, and Antawn Jamison's spin move and layup with 12 seconds left completed the comeback and gave the Tar Heels the lead.

Carolina finished the game on a 12-0 run in a victory that has been credited as part of the spark for propelling that team to the Final Four.

No. 9: Feb. 10, 2008: Carolina 103, Clemson 93 (2OT)

The third-ranked Tar Heels were coming off a disappointing loss to Duke, and they were playing without point guard Ty Lawson, who was resting an injured ankle. Couple those circumstances with the fact that the Tigers played very well and built an 11-point lead with three minutes remaining, and it looked like the end of one of the Atlantic Coast Conference's quirkiest streaks.

That's when a series of stellar performances turned the game around. Danny Green canned back-to-back three-pointers late in regulation. Tyler Hansbrough contributed 39 points (11-of-16 from the field and 17-of-19 from the free throw line), just one off his career high. The superstar also had a play that will live on his personal highlight reel forever, as he swiped the ball from David Potter at midcourt and then hurled himself on top of the ball to seal the win. The Tiger-tamer, Wayne Ellington--fresh off beating them with a three-pointer a month earlier--scored 28 points.

And Quentin Thomas converted clutch opportunities not just once, but twice. First, he hit a driving shot to force overtime. Then, he swished a couple of free throws to force the second overtime on his way to finishing with six points and a career-high nine assists.

No. 10: Feb. 8, 1992: Carolina 80, Wake Forest 78

This just might be the most overlooked comeback in the history of a program famous for comebacks. In fact, the Tar Heels overcame a 22-point deficit, which makes it the biggest comeback in Carolina hoops history. But very few people would single it out as especially memorable, and not too many remember that it was Brian Reese who swished a jumper at the buzzer to complete the victory.

Why? Because the Bloody Montross game three days earlier gets much more attention.

Rodney Rogers, Chris King and Derrick McQueen boosted the Deacs to a 48-33 halftime lead. Wake led by 20 points with 14:49 remaining and 11 points with 6:17 left.

But Rogers and King combined to shoot 10-for-30, and their misses eventually piled up in the second half against a trapping, run-and-jump Carolina defense. Ignited by a 30-point performance from senior Hubert Davis, the Tar Heels started a 10-0 run. 

With under a minute to play, Pat Sullivan tied the score at 78 on a pair of free throws. Davis and Reese combined on a trap on the baseline that forced a Deacon turnover, and then Dean Smith called a timeout with 10.9 seconds remaining to set the potential game-winning play.

Out of the timeout, Reese penetrated against Rogers, and his leaner from eight feet was short. But the rebound was batted around inside, and Reese crossed the lane and recovered the loose ball about 12 feet from the basket. He elevated, took a slight double-pump, and then fired in a swish as time expired.

Adam Lucas is the editor of CAROLINA.

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