Donald Williams provided a glimpse of what was yet to come in the 1993 season finale against Duke.
The top-ranked Tar Heels had already clinched the ACC regular season title, but they emphatically breezed into the ACC Tournament with an 83-69 win over the sixth-ranked Blue Devils at the Smith Center.
Duke had claimed the first meeting of the season, winning 81-67 at Cameron Indoor Stadium:
That had been the second of two straight Carolina losses, with the first a 26-point shellacking at Wake Forest. But the upperclassman-laden Tar Heels--featuring seniors George Lynch and Henrik Rödl plus a stalwart junior class that included Eric Montross, Derrick Phelps, Brian Reese and Pat Sullivan--surged at the end of the year, and had won eight in a row going into the regular season finale. They were doing it in dominant fashion, with the eight wins coming by a stunning average of 20.1 points per game.
Those routs had pushed Carolina to the top spot in the national polls for the first time since December of 1987 (this qualified as a long time during the Dean Smith era), and numerous fans showed up with posters of the new Sports Illustrated cover featuring Brian Reese and the No. 1 ranking (the SI cover story is available here).
Carolina had avenged the earlier loss to the Deacons with an 18-point blowout on March 3, and then turned their attention to Duke. The March 7 battle was supposed to be a showcase for Lynch, who played his final home game and finished with a double-double (12 points and 11 rebounds). Montross was also a standout, as he scored ten straight points at the end of the first half and beginning of the second as he spurred the Tar Heels to a 56-31 lead.
But it was Williams who showed a glimmer of what would continue for most of the month of March and April, as the sophomore guard pumped through a career-high 27 points. The Garner native nailed five three-pointers, just as he would in the national semifinal victory over Kansas and the national championship victory over Michigan on his way to being named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four.
Quietly, point guard Phelps also played a major role. His defense limited Bobby Hurley--who had been the engine of the back-to-back national championships for the Blue Devils--to just six points on 2-for-12 shooting, and Phelps himself added a stat sheet-stuffing eight points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
For the second straight year, Carolina fans stormed the court after the win over the Blue Devils (yes, it happened several times prior to 2014). All of this video of the entire game is worth watching, but especially noteworthy is the 1:34 mark, which features a great interview between former NC State coach Jim Valvano--who did the game for ABC, his final game broadcast--and Montross, Williams and Lynch.
Adam Lucas is the editor of CAROLINA.