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Off the cuff: I got this weird premonition right before the game that North Carolina was going to beat Duke 80-70. I didn't let myself believe it would happen, even with a 51-39 halftime lead for Carolina.

After all, we'd seen this story before with Duke coming from 16 down against the Tar Heels in Durham earlier this season. But after that game, I felt like Carolina was the better team and would win in Chapel Hill.

Still, I felt that the assessment couldn't be right. I mean Duke is Duke. They are defending champs. They hit a slew of threes and you have to get a lot of twos to offset them. Plus, they have a lot more experience. Think about senior night at Duke with Singler and Smith playing their last home game against Clemson. And then think of Carolina's senior night against Duke with starters Knox, Bolick, Hatchell and Johnston - none of which had ever started a game at UNC.

Carolina has only eight scholarship players on the roster right now. The normal starting five is entirely different than those who were starting for the Tar Heels last year at this time.

To top it off, while Duke is at the top of the ACC in three-point shooting and free throw shooting, Carolina is at the bottom.

So, just how did Carolina beat Duke 81-67? Emotion, intensity, hot shooting mainly. Duke missed open shots and Carolina pushed it down court aggressively and confidently. Marshall had a terrific game with 15 points and 11 assists but just as important was the poise Carolina showed when Duke scored the last two points of the first half and the first seven points of the second half.

A key 9-2 Carolina run, highlighted by a Barnes steal and dunk along with a three, righted the ship.

The Tar Heels may have two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior, who has never played a full season, as starters but neither this game nor the regular season title was a fluke. Regardless of what happens in the ACC tournament, UNC is the best team in the conference. Will that translate to an ACC tournament championship or a deep run into the NCAA tournament? And will all the starters stay for next year, which should be even better? Stay tuned.

Tar Heels 81, Duke 67
Heels improbably win regular season

Before the season only one basketball writer picked North Carolina to win the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season and he tried to renege saying it was a mistake. Improbably, the Tar Heels whipped defending national champion Duke in Chapel Hill 81-67 to win the ACC regular season title. (3/5)

The two teams came into the game with 13-2 ACC marks and Carolina had blown a 16-point lead in the first matchup between the two teams. The game was important enough that UNC coach Roy Williams seriously considered not starting all his seniors - a school tradition. In the end, he started the three walk-on seniors along with transfer senior Justin Knox, a first for all four.

The walk-ons left the game after a minute and a half with a 3-0 Carolina lead. The Carolina fans were in a frenzy with the modest start that set the tone for the game.

The game was close and went back and forth through the first 10 minutes of the game. Kendall Marshall hit a three midway through the first half to give Carolina a 23-21 lead and remarkably the Heels never trailed again.

UNC worked the lead up to 14 late in the half after an 11-2 run with the last five straight points coming from Leslie McDonald.

Carolina led 51-39 at the break but Duke came out hot in the second half and Carolina turned the ball over a couple of times and missed a couple of open shots. After two minutes, the Blue Devils had cut the margin to five at 51-46.

A Harrison Barnes steal and layup, followed by a pair of free throws pushed the margin up to nine and then, five minutes in, he drilled a three to push the lead back up to 12 at 60-48.

Seth Curry's sixth three pointer of the game pulled the Devils to within six at 64-58 but it never got closer. A Barnes dunk follow of his own miss got the margin back up to 12 with less than eight minutes to play. The lead stayed between 9 and 15 points the rest of the way.

After a Tyler Zeller dunk and a Dexter Strickland spread offense driving dunk, the score was 80-65 with a minute to play and the Carolina fans started celebrating.

Students stormed the court after the final buzzer. "The crowd was sensational," Coach Williams said. "It's a wonderful day to be a Tar Heel."

Carolina shot 52 percent for the game, including 58 percent in the first half. On the other hand Duke, which relies heavily on the three, shot only 35 percent, including just six of 27 from beyond the arc. Duke's Nolan Smith led all scorers with 30 points.

"We had a lot of open looks," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Our not hitting affected our defense."

But he said Carolina was extremely difficult to defend because of point guard Marshall. "Marshall had a terrific game," Coach K said. "He spread the ball around well - they had balanced scoring."

Marshall got his first double-double of his freshman season as he scored 15 points (11 in the first half) and 11 assists. Barnes scored 18 points to lead the scoring while Zeller had 14 points and Henson put in 10, along with 12 rebounds.

"It was a fantasic day for us," Coach Williams said. "I have no complaints about my guys."




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