The comeback was capped by a huge rebound stick-back and free throw by freshman Marvin Williams that put Carolina up for good with 17 seconds to play.
“It was a heck of a finish to say the least,” said UNC coach Roy Williams.
After Lee Melchionni’s fifth three-pointer in the second half gave Duke a 73-64 lead, Jawad Williams answered with a put-back of a Sean May miss.
Demarcus Nelson then missed the front end of a one-and-one, allowing May the chance to score and get fouled on the other end. May’s free throw with 1:44 remaining pulled the Tar Heels within two points.
Then after a defensive stop, UNC regained possession down 73-71 with 19 seconds left. Back on Feb. 9, Felton had the ball in a similar situation at Cameron Indoor Stadium with the identical amount of time on the clock.
This time there would be no hesitation by the junior point guard. Felton immediately drove to the basket and was fouled by Nelson – the unsung hero of the earlier match-up.
Felton’s first free throw was cleanly through and Duke’s lead was just one-point, 73-72. But his second offering rimmed out, and though the carom appeared to bounce right to J.J. Redick, somehow Marvin Williams came up with the ball, scored and was fouled by Duke reserve Patrick Johnson.
The 84-percent free throw shooter easily converted the old-fashioned three-point play as the Smith Center erupted.
Duke would get one more possession with 17 seconds to play, but Redick’s 28-foot shot and Daniel Ewing's jumper both missed, as a mass of Tar Heel fans engulfed the court.
“We had J.J. off a couple of screens and we got a good look,” Krzyzewski said. “We were going to win the game and went with our best player to win it. We’ll do that again if we ever have a chance to in a situation like that.”
Roy Williams said he first asked permission from Dean Smith, before declaring, “We’re going to have a party. We’re going to cut down the nets.”
Under the instruction of Williams, first went Melvin Scott, then Jackie Manuel and, to the loudest applause of all, Jawad Williams took a snippet, with flash bulbs going off in the Smith Center like an ‘American Anthem’ movie. Only this time the crowd was real.
Next, Felton went up the ladder, so did Rashad McCants, and Damion Grant kissed a piece of nylon history.
A little later, UNC seniors Jawad Williams, Jackie Manuel, Melvin Scott, Charlie Everett and C.J. Hooker would give thanks to their friends, family and fans.
“I’m big on letting kids celebrate,” Roy Williams said. “Somebody’s not going to like it and that’s just a part of it, but I’m big on kids enjoying themselves and thanking the fans.”
UNC (26-3, 14-2 ACC) concluded the regular season with its 15th outright conference title – 24th overall, an undefeated home record and a No. 1 seed in next week’s conference tournament.
“We wanted to win it outright,” May said. “This team just had too much fight tonight. We just wanted to win and do whatever it took to win.”
The win was the Tar Heels first in the series since an 82-79 win in Chapel Hill two years ago, and their third in 18 meetings with the Blue Devils.
UNC went unbeaten at home (15-0) for the first time since the 1992-93 NCAA Championship season.
May’s 26 points and 24 rebounds marked his eighth consecutive double-double, the first UNC player to do so since Mitch Kupchak accomplished the feat during the 1975-76 season.
Senior Jackie Manuel scored 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting, his first double figure performance since UNC defeated Miami earlier in the season.
Felton, who would later say this was the biggest win he’s ever been a part of, added 11 points including 5-fo-7 from the charity stripe.
“I guess this was No. 1,” Felton said. “This is pretty close to my [S.C.] state championship game my junior year in high school. That was emotional, but this probably tops it.”
But Carolina converted just 1-of-11 attempts from three-point range.
Shelden Williams led four Blue Devils in double figures with 22 points. The odds-on-favorite to be named ACC Defensive Player of the Year Monday afternoon also tallied six blocks, but only grabbed four rebounds.
Redick, a leading candidate for conference Player of the Year honors scored 17 points, including 4-of-9 from beyond the arc; Melchionni had 15 to go with Daniel Ewing’s 11.
The Tar Heels will face the winner between No. 8-seed Maryland (16-11, 7-9) and ninth-seed Clemson (15-14, 5-11) Friday at noon. The Terps and Tigers square off at noon on Thursday at the MCI Center in downtown Washington, D.C.