CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) – Third-ranked North Carolina took down its biggest rival again, this time to earn a share of the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season championship.
Freshman Coby White scored 21 points and UNC hung on late to beat fourth-ranked Duke 79-70 on Saturday, securing their first regular-season sweep of the Blue Devils in a decade.
Senior Kenny Williams scored a season-high 18 points for the Tar Heels (26-5, 16-2), who led by 15 with about 6Â½ minutes left but had to hold off a rally by the Blue Devils, who played yet again without injured freshman star Zion Williamson. Duke lost starting big man Marques Bolden early in this one to his own knee injury.
Afterward, the Tar Heels stayed on the court as Williams, fellow senior Luke Maye and graduate student Cameron Johnson gave their Senior Night speeches after their final home game. Then coach Roy Williams told the crowd that had stuck around long after the horn that they were going to cut down nets.
“It’s OK if you need to go, it’s all right,” Williams said as arena staff brought ladders onto the court. “Because we’re going to have fun ourselves. We’re going to cut down that frickin’ net as ACC champions.”
The Tar Heels bumbled their way to the finish after building their big lead, letting the Blue Devils (26-5, 14-4) get as close as 75-70 on RJ Barrett’s 3-pointer with 2:19 left. Ultimately UNC held on to finish tied alongside second-ranked Virginia atop the final league standings.
Virginia secured the No. 1 seed for the league tournament by beating Louisville earlier Saturday. The Cavaliers owned the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Tar Heels by winning in Chapel Hill last month – which is UNC’s only loss since mid-January.
UNC had last swept the two-game set with Duke on Tyler Hansbrough’s Senior Day in 2009 for a team that went on to win the NCAA title.
“We were down by 15 and we put ourselves in a position where we had a chance,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I’m proud of the fact that our guys put us in that position. … We be OK if we keep doing that.”
Barrett scored 26 points to lead the Blue Devils, who shot just 23 percent after halftime.
Duke came in shorthanded with Williamson out for the fifth straight game since suffering a sprained right knee early in last month’s first meeting with the Tar Heels. On Friday, Krzyzewski had said Williamson had gotten in his “first really good workout” on Thursday as he continued his recovery. The next step, he said, was working on Williamson’s conditioning and getting him used to contact again.
Then things got tougher when the Blue Devils lost Bolden roughly 2Â½ minutes when he fell into the basket support while picking up a foul on a block attempt at the rim. He had to be helped off the court and straight to the tunnel, and didn’t return with what Krzyzewski said afterward was a sprained ligament in his left knee.
Cam Reddish was terrific in the first half with 17 points to help Barrett, the ACC’s leading scorer who has been left as the no-doubt lead weapon for Duke’s offense with Williamson out.
Barrett got into foul trouble by picking up his third foul late in the first half and finished with four fouls, three coming on charges drawn by Williams.
“It’s not the greatest feeling losing to them,” Duke freshman point guard Tre Jones said. “But just as a team, we’ve got to learn from this loss for sure.”
Duke: There’s no doubt the Blue Devils are a different team without Williamson, a national player of the year candidate and possible No. 1 overall NBA draft pick if he goes pro. The question is how soon he might be back, with Krzyzewski expressing optimism that he could be back for next week’s ACC Tournament in Charlotte. Without him, Barrett and Reddish (23 points) had to carry the load offensively and had trouble keeping up with UNC once the Tar Heels got rolling.
UNC: The Tar Heels shot just 41 percent and 7 of 13 from the foul line, so things were hardly perfect. Yet that 11-0 burst that finally jarred the Tar Heels loose in a tight game was a display of why they have lost just twice in league play: fast-paced, explosive and at times withering for opponents to chase down. And they figured out a way to hang on when Duke threatened to climb back in it late.
Duke: The Blue Devils have a bye as the No. 3 seed into Thursday’s quarterfinals at the ACC Tournament.
UNC: The Tar Heels have a bye as the No. 2 seed into Thursday’s quarterfinals at the ACC Tournament.
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