No one has to sell Jim Corrigan on Duke-North Carolina. A college basketball maven from birth, he grew up in the Tar Heel state, played at Duke and watched his uncle, Gene Corrigan, serve as ACC commissioner.
But after 22 seasons as an assistant coach in the Colonial Athletic Association, the last 15 at Old Dominion, Corrigan has come to embrace the league's signature rivalry.
The Monarchs and Rams added a keeper to the archives Saturday afternoon with two-plus hours of wild, weird and undeniably entertaining basketball.
ODU prevailed 69-65 before a capacity home crowd of 8,424, and long after the fans had exited, Corrigan proposed a question.
Conceding the athletes aren't quite as good — no one mistakes Gerald Lee for Tyler Hansbrough — wasn't this game as intense and riveting as Duke-North Carolina a few days earlier?
As someone who was courtside for both, I had to admit he had a point.
Of course, Monarchs-Rams lacks the heritage, national implications and ESPN fawning of Blue Devils-Tar Heels. Corrigan never said otherwise.
His contention was, at the mid-major level, Saturday was about as good as it gets: two state neighbors, quality teams both, trading haymakers and wily strategies in their second collision in a month.
"That game almost ends up being a blur for me with all the big plays," ODU coach Blaine Taylor said.
The top-shelf plays began immediately.
Monarchs forward Frank Hassell passed over a low-post double-team to Ben Finney for a layup; Rams point guard Eric Maynor, the CAA's best at any position, dusted Darius James with a crossover, penetrated and found Bradford Burgess alone in the left corner for a 3-pointer.
After 21/2 minutes, the teams had combined for 15 points. No way could they sustain the frantic pace.
Sure enough, the next 41/2 minutes were scoreless as Taylor and VCU coach Anthony Grant experimented defensively, changing tactics more often than President Obama does Commerce nominees. What both discovered was that zones baffled the opponent.
Taylor used a 3-2 and 2-3. Grant went 2-3 and then diamond-and-one with 5-foot-10 Joey Rodriguez shadowing the 6-9 Lee. It was bizarre but temporarily effective.
After the game, a reporter asked Lee when he was last guarded by a 5-10 guy.
"When he was 5-10," Taylor quipped.
There were other oddities.
ODU (16-9, 9-6) committed five turnovers in the opening five minutes of the second half as VCU scored 14 consecutive points. The Monarchs committed one in the final 15 minutes.
The Rams (18-8, 11-4) had no offensive rebounds in the first half, 11 in the second. Taylor said he'd never seen a team go an entire half without an offensive board.
But Taylor has seen his young squad shy away at big moments this season, never more so than at VCU, where the Rams smacked the Monarchs 61-44. Not Saturday.
"Confident and comfortable," Taylor called his players.
Indeed, the Monarchs erased a 42-35 deficit with an 11-1 blitz. Minutes later, Maynor and Lee began a duel in which Maynor scored six consecutive VCU points, Lee seven straight for ODU.
Fueled by Lee's binge, the Monarchs scored on 11 of their final 13 possessions. Strangely enough, one of their misses came in a 5-on-4 as VCU's Larry Sanders writhed in pain at the other end with a sprained ankle.
The defining sequence began with 1:57 remaining when Hassell swatted Terrance Saintil's low-post shot. On its ensuing possession, ODU spread the floor to isolate Lee against Saintil at the top of the key.
Lee beat him off the bounce, drew a double-team from Maynor and found Finney in the right corner for a 3-pointer that gave the Monarchs a 64-57 edge.
"I lost my mind," Hassell said of Finney's shot.
So did the fans. And no one could blame them.
True to their all-conference status, Lee (18 points and five rebounds) and Maynor (22 points and five assists) excelled. Maynor leads the CAA in scoring and assists, a rare combination in any league.
The lone CAA player to achieve that double was Northeastern's Jose Juan Barea in 2006, and today he's cashing Mark Cuban's checks as a Dallas Mavericks backup. The only Southeastern Conference alum to do it was LSU's Pete Maravich.
Corrigan will appreciate this: It's never happened in the ACC. Not even at Duke or North Carolina.
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or at email@example.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime