But UNC, which could never get into its familiar offensive flow, remarkably, still had a chance at the end.
Trailing 67-58 with 5:03 to play, the Tar Heels battled back, gaining possession down by just one point with 19 seconds left.
College basketball's best rivalry had been just what it was hyped to be, a brutally-contested battle between two of the country’s top programs on a national stage. Fittingly, it was decided on the final play of the game; just like both of last year's classics and its many predecessors.
Raymond Felton crossed half court, and with time running down, managed to maneuver ahead of defender Daniel Ewing.
“At that time I didn’t have anybody to pass the ball to,” Felton said.
He appeared to have the opportunity to shoot a mid-range jumper. Felton instead picked up his dribble, but couldn’t get the ball inside to Sean May.
Bogged down and with desperation setting in, Felton could only pass off to David Noel, who would ultimately lose the ball out of bounds as time expired.
The Tar Heels (19-3, 8-2 ACC) never got off a shot.
“I thought we were in really good shape,” Roy Williams said. “When Daniel reached from behind and Raymond got it and there was nobody in front of him, I felt that I liked our chances at that point, but we didn’t make the play.”
A J.J. Redick shot didn’t even reach the rim on Duke’s previous possession, giving Carolina one last look.
“At that point I just thought Raymond would take it all the way down, get fouled, shoot two free throws and we would get on out of here,” Rashad McCants said. “But, we didn’t get a shot up, no one got fouled and we lost.”
Again, the Blue Devils and Tar Heels threw another epic log on the series’ fire, but the result was all too familiar to UNC fans.
Duke (18-2, 8-2), which has now won 15 of the last 17 meetings between the two schools, moves into a three-way tie for first in the Atlantic Coast Conference with Carolina and Wake Forest.
The Crazies seemed to consider this one special, however. Twice UNC battled back to tie the score in the second half, only to watch the Blue Devils answer with three-pointers and subsequent runs, never giving 9,314 subservient fans any reason to call off their choreographed verbal onslaught.
“Their crowd is definitely in it from beginning to end,” David Noel said. “You have to take that in consideration and come in with a lot of poise. It will be even more fun when we get a win.”
Sean May led all players with 23 points and 18 rebounds, while getting the statistical better of Shelden Williams (11 points, nine rebounds). However, Williams' defensive presence was a factor in the Tar Heels sub-par shooting performance.
“I did a good job of taking what my teammates could give me, getting the ball in position to score,” May said. “Shelden’s numbers are going to show that he’s the best big man in the conference; he just didn’t have a good game. We tried to attack him tonight.”
Neither team shot the ball particularly well; and in a game that featured spectacular defensive play by both teams at times, Duke forced Carolina into 23 turnovers, while holding the nation’s top scoring team to 43.9 percent shooting and its lowest point total since winning 70-63 at Indiana on Dec. 1.
The Tar Heels wanted to run their break, but couldn’t due to Duke’s ball control offense. UNC scored just one fast break basket on the night.
“They spread the floor and controlled the tempo,” Roy Williams said. “And in their pressure defense, there’s no question that that bothered us, too.”
Redick paced the Blue Devils with 18 points, converting 4-of-10 three-pointers and all six of his free throw attempts.
“We’ve had a lot of tough games, and the thing we’ve done all year is just find ways to win,” Redick said.
The Blue Devils were also sparked by 16 points (2-for-2 3pt.) and four steals from freshman DeMarcus Nelson. The Carolina bench was supposed to be a difference maker, but Nelson single-handedly outscored Marvin Williams (12 points), Melvin Scott (0), Quentin Thomas (0), David Noel (0) and Wes Miller (0).
“It was obvious that DeMarcus just played at a level, or even a couple of levels, higher than he’s played,” Mike Krzyzewski said. “He’s played well, but he was great tonight. We really needed that.”
UNC appeared tight from the game’s onset, committing turnovers on its first three possessions. Felton struggled against Duke’s defensive pressure (eight turnovers), McCants suffered through a 3-for-13 shooting night (1-for-8 3pt.) and Jawad Williams was virtually a non-factor with two points and three rebounds.
“I’m very angry at myself,” McCants said. “I think I was overly nervous about the game. Players shouldn’t be nervous, but I’m human. I think everybody on this team was nervous, especially the first five minutes. We’ve just got to show up and play.”
Duke returns to action Saturday at Maryland, while Carolina interupts its conference slate with a nationally televised showdown at UConn on Sunday.