Friedlander: Harrison Ingram earns his place in Duke-UNC lore. His toughness could help the Tar Heels earn a title
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – A great individual performance can help a team win games and earn the player a mantle full of individual honors.
Do it in a game the stature of North Carolina-Duke and he can become a legend.
Marvin Williams will forever be remembered for his put-back that catapulted the Tar Heels to a national championship in 2005. Austin Rivers hit the buzzer-beating shot heard ‘round Chapel Hill to lift the Blue Devils to victory in 2021.
And then there’s Tyler Hansbrough and Eric Montross, both of whom spilled a little blood on their way to immortality.
Saturday at Smith Center, a new UNC-Duke legend was born.
The latest renewal of college basketball’s best rivalry will officially go into the history books as a 93-84 Tar Heels victory. But to the legions of fans partial to either shade of blue, it will long be remembered as “The Harrison Ingram Game.”
Armando Bacot became only the 2nd player in school history with at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists against the Blue Devils while ACC Player of the Year frontrunner RJ Davis finished with 17 points despite being hounded all night by a Duke defense designed to shut him down.
But it was Ingram who stole the show.
The Stanford transfer pumped in 5 of his team’s 9 3-pointers on his way to a season-high 21 points. He added to his league-leading rebounding average by pulling down 13 while adding 4 steals and a blocked shot.
But beyond that, it was his energy and competitiveness opposing coach Jon Scheyer described as “relentless” that set an unmistakable tone and helped UNC bounce right back from Tuesday’s loss at Georgia Tech and prevent the Blue Devils from winning at Smith Center for the 3rd straight year.
“He’s always bringing effort and energy and enthusiasm, a toughness about him,” Tar Heels coach Hubert Davis said of Ingram. “He’s on the floor diving for loose balls. Every time he makes a shot he starts clapping and getting in the middle of things.
“He does so much for us on and off the court for us on and off the court and in the locker room. Stuff (outsiders) don’t see and you don’t look at on the stat sheet.”
Harrison Ingram in his UNC/Duke DEBUT:
And a Tar Heel DUB.🐏 pic.twitter.com/hFB7RoN8vV
— College Basketball Report (@CBKReport) February 4, 2024
The definitive example of that came with 6 minutes remaining.
With UNC already leading by 11, Ingram scrambled to the floor to outhustle a Duke defender to the rebound of a miss by teammate Cormac Ryan.
Surrounded by Blue Devils and still prone on his back, the 6-foot-7 junior forward heaved a pass back to Bacot near midcourt. Bacot then found Ryan open in the corner for a 3-pointer that expanded the Tar Heels’ advantage to 77-63 and sent the already raucous crowd into an eruption Ingram said sounded as if it “broke the sound barrier.”
“That felt like the dagger,” Bacot said. “Once (Ryan) hit that shot I was like, okay, we might be good.”
UNC was probably “good” already at that point in the game. But because of the kind of effort Ingram brings to the court on a regular basis, the 3rd-ranked Tar Heels are well on their way to becoming great.
Championship great. And not just the ACC championship.
His toughness and leadership are reminiscent of the contributions provided by Brady Manek during UNC’s surprise run to the national title game 2 seasons ago. They were elements that were glaringly missing last season when they just as surprisingly missed out on the NCAA Tournament.
“His personality, the way he plays kind of rubs off on us,” RJ Davis said. “Credit it to him, because he’s a phenomenal player. I think that’s one of the pieces we were missing (in 2023). The type of player that does it all and gives 100% each game and each practice.”
And yet, even he found a way to raise his game to a higher level for this one.
The UNC-Duke rivalry will do that to a player, even one experiencing it for the 1st time. Of course, he had a little advanced knowledge of what to expect thanks to a different kind of rivalry.
His sister Lauren is a volleyball player at Duke and she spent the week leading up to the game talking smack to her brother.
“She was calling me about how we were going to lose and how we aren’t good,” Ingram said. “But we got the ‘dub.”
The newly-minted UNC legend made sure to acknowledge Lauren afterward by pointing in her direction on his way off the court – a gesture similar to the kind the Tar Heels give a teammate for giving them an assist.
Other than that, there isn’t much Ingram remembered about his performance. Let alone understand the place in UNC history it helped him attain.
“I’m still blacked out right now,” he said. “I don’t even know what’s going on.”
It will all sink in eventually.
Maybe it will happen Sunday morning. Maybe it will take until after the season. Or perhaps it will be years from now when a fan, regardless of which shade of blue he’s wearing, recognizes him and says “Hey, I remember you.
“You’re the guy from the “Harrison Ingram Game.”