The Tar Heels were jittery off the tip at Cameron Indoor Stadium, committing six turnovers in the opening six minutes and falling behind 17-4. When the Blue Devils weren't forcing turnovers, they were outworking the ACC's top rebounding team on the boards.
"The rebounding battle, I thought, going into the game was going to be key, and I thought it would be an area where we could – could – have an advantage, and instead, they just destroyed us on the backboards," Williams told reporters following the loss.
UNC's saving grace was an ability to score at a 61.9 percent clip after settling down in the first half. The Tar Heels pulled within two at one point before entering halftime down 40-37.
One way to assess the first half is from the perspective that UNC was lucky to be within three points after committing eight turnovers and being outrebounded 17-14 (8-3 OR). Another would be that Duke only held a 3-point lead despite taking 15 more field goal attempts and outscoring the Tar Heels in second-chance points (9-6) and points off turnovers (7-4).
James Michael McAdoo led UNC in scoring in the first half (11 points) despite being limited to 12 minutes due to three fouls. The junior forward picked up his fourth foul less than a minute into the second half, essentially the same time that Jabari Parker (30 points, 11 rebounds) started taking over.
"[That foul] was big-time," senior guard Leslie McDonald said. "James Michael is one of the key players for our team and one of our inside-outside guys, so when you get a fourth foul on him, it sends one of our offensive threats to the bench."
Duke nearly duplicated its first half start with a 19-7 run out of halftime. With McAdoo sidelined and Kennedy Meeks ill but gutting out 12 minutes, Brice Johnson was tasked with defending Parker, who led a concerted effort to penetrate and attack the rim.
Duke shot 61.8 percent from two-point range, and when UNC switched to its 3-2 and 1-3-1 zones to limit penetration, its 3-point bombs started falling. The Blue Devils converted 60 percent of their treys (6-of-10) in the second half after missing 11 of 13 before halftime.
Duke shot 50.9 percent for the game.
"We dug ourselves too big of a hole with our defensive effort," said sophomore guard Marcus Paige, who led UNC with 24 points. "We can't give up as many points as we did and expect to win.
To their credit, the Tar Heels battled back from a 19-point deficit with 8:31 to play to pull within eight – primarily due to Paige's 18 second-half points - but more errors prevented a complete comeback. Nate Britt made a silly foul 35 feet from the basket with seven seconds left on the shot clock, Johnson interfered with a Paige 3-ball that was dropping into the cylinder and a pair of missed layups after Duke turnovers were devastating late.
Add it all up and Duke was able to edge UNC for the No. 3 seed in the ACC Tournament next weekend by scoring 35 points off 13 turnovers and 16 offensive rebounds.
The Tar Heels lost for the first time in 11 years under Williams when shooting better than 50 percent - their 59.6 percent set a season high in ACC play. The last time UNC shot that well in a loss was in this same building on Mar. 2, 1986 when it knocked down 64.2 percent of its attempts in an 82-74 loss.
Duke outrebounded UNC 34-20 (16-6 OR). UNC's 20 rebounds are its fewest since pulling down 20 in the ACC Tournament final against N.C. State on Mar. 8, 1987.