CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Duke might have the future NBA lottery picks, but North Carolina had the heart, the hustle and maybe even a little history on its side Thursday night in scrapping past the Blue Devils for an 82-78 win that reminded us, yet again, why this is college basketball’s best rivalry.
Duke had won four of its past six trips here and seven of the past 10 games in the series, so odds were that streak wasn’t going to go on forever.
The Tar Heels, who had lost three of their past four games, were totally overwhelmed in the first half by Duke’s size and length. The Blue Devils had 30 of their 45 points in the first half in the paint.
But North Carolina, playing its third ACC game in a span of five days, came out scorching to open the second half. The Tar Heels beat the Blue Devils to every loose ball, scrambled for long rebounds, and junior Kenny Williams had a career night with 20 points, including six 3-pointers. Not since Hubert Davis in 1992 had a North Carolina player made that many 3s against the Blue Devils.
It was another head-scratching loss for Duke, which was coming off an 81-77 defeat to St. John’s last Saturday. The Blue Devils carved the Tar Heels apart in the first half, but only attempted two 2-point field goals in the final 11:33 of the game.
No possession epitomized the game any more than one with less than four minutes to play when the Tar Heels got four offensive rebounds, ending with a scrum on the floor that led to a North Carolina possession on a tied-up ball.
Duke simply couldn’t stop North Carolina to open the second half. In the final two minutes of the first half and first eight minutes of the second half, the Tar Heels poured in 27 points, another painful reminder for the Blue Devils that as big, talented and long as they are, that they simply haven't been very good this season defensively.