“It was two teams that played as hard as they could play,” Roy Williams said. “When it’s two teams with great kids and great characters, that’s what you expect.”
The Tar Heels (21-3, 7-2 ACC) have now won three of the last four in the nation’s foremost college basketball rivalry, and in doing so are among three conference teams with just two losses apiece.
As is always the case in this series, record books were checked at the door. The gritty slugfest everyone anticipates when these two teams meet was as sure as the earth’s rotation schedule.
“It’s one of those wild games,” Williams said. “It was a very competitive game and a very difficult game to play, but the kids couldn’t be any happier. That locker room is a happy locker room.”
Brandan Wright’s 19 points led four Tar Heels in double figures. Tyler Hansbrough finished with 16, Ty Lawson scored 15 and Reyshawn Terry bounced back from an inauspicious performance at NC State on Saturday to record 10 points to go with a team-high 10 rebounds.
“They are talented, they have guys who have won and they have a coach who knows how to win,” Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski said, describing the Tar Heels.
No. 16/18 Duke (18-6, 5-5) now finds itself knee-deep in league mediocrity, staring the dreaded Thursday ACC Tournament activity right in the face.
Freshman John Scheyer led all scorers with 26 points, while Josh McRoberts pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds.
As was the case the last time these two teams met, Carolina got down big early. But instead of quickly rallying back, the Tar Heels did not taste their first lead until a Terry layup made it 62-60 with just 5:15 remaining in the game.
The Blue Devils had led by as many as 10 points on several occasions.
Once UNC was ahead, it never relinquished the lead, although it took key point guard play by Lawson, stellar defense on Duke’s Greg Paulus by Wes Miller, and clutch free throws down the stretch by Lawson and Hansbrough to secure the victory.
The Tar Heels shot 59 percent from the floor in the second half and won the battle of the boards, 39-33, demonstrating toughness that was absent in the upset loss to the Wolfpack.
“I just wanted to make sure that my club kept attacking,” Williams said.
Meanwhile, the Blue Devils, which made 9-of-9 free throws in the first half, went just 3-for-10 from the charity stripe in the final period.
A 6-0 run led to UNC’s largest lead at 70-63 on a Lawson layup and subsequent free throw at the 1:46 mark. However it wasn’t until there was less than six seconds left that Williams said he finally felt “confident” his team would return home triumphant.
“Really, down the stretch, they hit their free throws and we missed ours; and that’s to their credit,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s not easy to be in here. I really respect who they are and it shows in the way we played. I thought we played a terrific game tonight, but it wasn’t enough to beat a terrific team.”