UNC's freshmen outscored Duke's graduating class, 55-51.
Tyler Hansbrough was high man with 27 points (19 in second half), including a late-game trey from beyond the arc that all but silenced the Duke crowd.
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” Hansbrough said as he walked off Coach K Court for the first time in his career.
For those who had truly taken a look at these two teams entering the contest, Carolina’s upset may not have come as such a surprise. After all, UNC (21-6, 12-4 ACC) had won its last three by an average of 31 points and lost just once all season on the league road.
Meanwhile, Duke (27-3, 14-2) had just dropped a 79-74 decision at Florida State after being severely tested in its two previous outings by Georgia Tech and Temple.
More importantly, ACC Player of the Year lock J.J. Redick was just two games removed from a season-low 11-point performance against the Owls.
Still, whether or not Carolina had finally surpassed its inter-county nemesis was in serious doubt when Redick nailed four of his first five field goals to help stake the Blue Devils to an early 13-2 lead. But despite three first half fouls on David Noel, the Tar Heels slowly battled back to take their first lead of the night, 23-22, before Duke would escape to the locker room clinging to a 38-37 halftime lead.
“I don’t know of anybody that I have ever admired or respected more than J.J.,” Roy Williams said. “He is so hard to guard and takes everybody’s best shot.”
Yet when you’re on a roll like Carolina has been of late, negatives can sometimes easily turn to positives. And with Noel saddled on the bench for large chunks of the game clock in foul trouble, Marcus Ginyard took over on Redick and shut the All-America down. Redick, along with Shelden Williams (18 pts., 15 reb.) and the other Duke seniors, was forced to entertain 9,314 of his fans after the game with his farewell speech realizing it was not his best night.
Hounded primarily by Ginyard, but having faced several different UNC defenders, Redick finished 5-for-21 from the floor – a harmless, if not team-detrimental, 2-for-10 from three-point range.
“When you have a couple of guys like Shelden and J.J., there’s a tendency to step back a little bit,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
Ginyard finished with 12 points and Frasor 10, but it may have been the supplemental bench play of Quentin Thomas (6 pts., 3 ast., TO), Danny Green (6 pts., stl.) and Byron Sanders (5 pts.) that helped to wear the Blue Devils down.
Hansbrough and Noel combined on 22 boards, as Carolina – the ACC’s top rebounding team – bested its 14th straight opponent on the glass. And after 12 first half miscues, the Tar Heels turned the ball over just four times in the final period.
“It was a first half that was an ugly game,” Williams said. “We had so many turnovers that I felt like were careless turnovers. I challenged them to be stronger with the basketball.”
Carolina has more wins (12) over top-ranked teams than any other school in history. UCLA is second with 10 and Maryland is third with 9.
UNC, picked to finish no better than sixth according to preseason media polls, clinched sole possession of second place in the conference. The Tar Heels will play in the 7 p.m. match-up on Friday at the ACC Tournament in Greensboro.