UNC's Cormac Ryan was dominant in a win at Duke. He let the Cameron Crazies know about it, too

Sun, Mar 10, 2024

UNC's Cormac Ryan was dominant in a win at Duke. He let the Cameron Crazies know about it, too

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) - It took roughly two minutes before North Carolina guard Cormac Ryan caught a pass and buried a corner 3-pointer with no hesitation in front of Duke's rowdy fans.

He followed with another 16 seconds later from the same spot, then turned to face the "Cameron Crazies" and curse at them.

And the graduate transfer from Notre Dame never shut up, either - yapping, screaming, shushing the crowd and shaking his head with his tongue wagging about after making big shot after big shot. He finished with a career-high 31 points as the seventh-ranked Tar Heels secured the program's first Atlantic Coast Conference outright regular-season title since 2017.

It was an output that ranked among the best by a UNC player in decades in the rivalry, offering a reminder of the veteran's unflappable confidence and competitive zip that could prove critical deeper into March.

"That's just who I am, man," Ryan said of his demonstrative celebrations in Saturday night's 84-79 win against the ninth-ranked Blue Devils. "I can't control it. I love playing in these environments. I love being in front of the fire. I love it."

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UNC coach Hubert Davis added Ryan as part of an offseason overhaul after a disappointing flop from preseason No. 1 to missing the NCAA Tournament last year. He wanted the 6-foot-5 guard's veteran presence along with a feisty competitive edge.

The Tar Heels won the first meeting with Duke behind a monster effort from Stanford transfer Harrison Ingram. They won Round 2 behind the other transfer starter in Ryan, who shot 8 of 12 overall, including 6 of 8 from 3-point range, and 9 of 10 from the foul line.

He ended with the best scoring total by a UNC player against Duke since eventual national player of the year Antawn Jamison had 35 points in a February 1998 win that stood as a 1-vs.-2 national matchup.

It was also the highest scoring output by a UNC player at Duke's famed Cameron Indoor Stadium since Davis had 35 in a loss in March 1992.

"Cormac, I mean, he's got that dog in him," UNC veteran big man Armando Bacot said, adding that Ryan "brought the fire today."

"To go out there and be that unconscious in a big game like this with so much at stake, it just speaks to how crazy he is," Bacot added.

Ryan certainly looked comfortable even in Cameron's hostile confines, though it makes sense considering it's nothing he hasn't seen before. Even in today's older game with the transfer portal, he's a college-ancient 25 years old who started his college career at Stanford during the 2018-19 season.

He arrived having played 145 college games, including one in which he had 28 points with four 3-pointers for the Fighting Irish in a February 2021 win.

That one came here in front of no Cameron Crazies amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This time, everyone was packed into the venerable campus arena to see it - shots, celebrations and all.

Those first two 3s from the right corner set the tone for everything, both for himself and as part of UNC's game-opening 10-2 run on the way to a 15-point margin.

"You've got to not give Ryan two open 3s to start the game," Duke coach Jon Scheyer said. "You would feel pretty good if coming into Cameron, it's just two wide-open 3s to start off. And that sets the tone for the night."

Indeed, UNC never trailed and repeatedly turned back push after push by the Blue Devils. Ryan was at the center of it all.

There was Ryan taking a kickout feed from Bacot to smoothly bury an NBA-range 3-pointer, then running back up court screaming and sticking his tongue out with the Tar Heels back up 10 at the 10-minute mark.

Several minutes later, he buried another one for a 75-66 lead at the 3:49 mark and held his finger to his lips in a silence-please message to the Crazies.

Then came his biggest: a clean catch-and-fire long 3 with Jeremy Roach hovering inches away. That gave UNC a 78-69 lead with 1:38 left, and Ryan started screaming in Roach's direction as he retreated back up the court.

Ryan closed his scoring by swishing two clinching free throws with 4.7 seconds remaining. Moments later, as the horn sounded, Ryan immediately raised his right hand to wave goodbye and pointed with his left arm directly into the center of the Crazies at midcourt.

"Listen, it's not personal, that's just who I am," Ryan said. "I'm a fiery guy. That's what you come here to do, to play in front of these fans and these environments and just feed off that. And I sure do and I know these guys do, too."

It didn't even matter to them that several fans threw water and plastic bottles at the Tar Heels in frustration as they gathered near midcourt to join Ryan's waves in a taunting farewell.

No, there was an ACC title to celebrate. And things to dream big about in the looming NCAA Tournament.

"We love to compete," Ryan said, "and there's nothing better than playing alongside your best friends."


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