North Carolina eliminates Duke 81-77 |

NEW ORLEANS — Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s remarkable career came to a thrilling and sudden end on Saturday night after Caleb Love made a key 3-pointer and three late free throws to bring rival Carolina du Nord to a thrilling 81-77 win over Blue Devils.

It was the 258th, most consequential and perhaps, perhaps, best meeting between these teams, whose arenas are separated by just 11 miles at Tobacco Road.

The Tar Heels (29-9), of all teams, pinned the 368th and final loss to 75-year-old Coach K, exactly four weeks after ruining the going away party in their last home game at the Cameron Indoor Stadium.

This loss hurt. This one stopped the coach’s last breath, a storybook run to a one-game title win and a chance at his sixth championship. When it was over, after playing with no downtime, Krzyzewski calmly walked to the half court and shook hands with Carolina rookie coach Hubert Davis.

So instead of Krzyzewski aiming for its sixth title, Carolina will go for its seventh on Monday. It will be Davis, Love, who led the Tar Heels with 28 points, and RJ Davis, who scored 18, against Kansas, which beat Villanova 81-65 earlier in the undercard.

The main event lived up to the hype. What a game! It featured 18 lead changes and 12 ties.

Around the 2-minute mark, the teams traded three straight 3s. Wendell Moore Jr.’s 3-pointer with 1:19 to go ended the flurry and gave Duke a 74-73 lead. It was the last track of Krzyzewski’s career.

RJ Davis came back with two free throws, then after Duke’s Mark Williams, foul all night, missed a pair from the line, Carolina worked the ball around the perimeter.

Tar Heels goaltender Leaky Black placed a pick – make that threw a block – on Trevor Keels to release Love, who drained a 3 for a four-point lead and what looked like a huge amount of wiggle room in this one- this.

Love made three more free throws in the stretch and then it was over. Krzyzewski left the Superdome floor hand-in-hand with his wife, Mickie.

Hubert Davis was crying again, much like he did last weekend when North Carolina clinched their ticket to their record-breaking 21st Final Four.

“I felt like for the last two or three years North Carolina was irrelevant,” said Davis, who replaced legendary Roy Williams. “North Carolina should never be out of place. They should be front and center with the spotlight on them.”

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