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Off the cuff: Losing a game like this one doesn't feel good but it can be a blessing. It's difficult to defeat an ACC team three times in a row.

This game, the second between Duke and Caroina this year, really meant nothing in the standings. Regardless of who won or lost, Duke was going to be the second seed and UNC was going to be the third seed in the upcoming ACC Tournament.

If each team wins its first ACC tourney game, the two will face each other for a third time in the ACC semi-finals Saturday.

It reminds me a bit of when Carolina lost to Duke in the season finale in 1979 (the famous slow-down game where the term air-ball was invented when Rich Yonakor missed a baseline jumper after Carolina had held the ball for a long time). The Tar Heels used that loss as impetus for beating the Devils in the ACC Tournament.

The way Carolina lost this 69-53 game could go one of two ways. It could destroy the confidence they've built up in the last six wins in a row or it could give them impetus to at least play well in the ACC Tournament and against Duke in particular.

Duke 69, Tar Heels 53
Quick start for Curry, duke sinks Heels

In retrospect, Duke won this game in the first three and a half minutes. The Blue Devils hit their first seven shots to get ahead 14-0 and the visitors cruised to a 69-53 victory over North Carolina. (3/9)

Seth Curry hit his first seven shots with the seventh giving the Devils their biggest lead to that point at 28-11 midway through the first half.

By the half, Duke was in control at 42-24 as the Devils shot nearly 70 percent from the field compared to 28 percent for the Tar Heels.

Carolina, which has relied heavily on the three, didn't hit a three-point shot until there was just five minutes left. PJ Hairston sank a three to pull the Heels within 14 at 63-49.

"I thought we still had a shot when PJ hit that three," UNC coach Roy Williams said. "But we didn't get stops after that."

Duke led by as many as 25 at 61-36 midway through the second half so getting the deficit to 14 with five minutes left felt big. But Duke ate the clock twice and Quinn Cook scored both times at the end of the shot clock.

While the Tar Heels actually won the second half by two points, Mason Plumlee held Carolina at bay similar to the way Curry, who scored 20, had done it in the first half. Plumlee, who finished with 23 points, scored 10 points in the first four minutes of the second half to dampen UNC's spirits.

"They missed some open shots and we defended well," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "In the first half, Curry was the best player on the court. In the second half, Plumlee was the best player."

The Tar Heels hit only one of 14 shots from behind the three-point line, which isn't conducive to coming from behind.

James Michael McAdoo led the Tar Heels with 15 points while Hairston added 14. Carolina falls to 22-9 and 12-6 in the ACC while Duke improves to 27-4 and 14-4 in the league. Dexter Strickland, playing in his senior day game, was only two of eight from the field for four points.

It was the first time ever that a Roy Williams-coached team had lost on Senior Night. Frank Tanner, the only other senior on the team and a seldom-used player, as is custom, started the game for the Heels.

"To the day I'm fired or the day they put me in the grave, I'm going to start seniors on senior day," Williams said, adding that he had never had a losing senior day not only in 25 years as a head coach but in 10 years as an assistant to Dean Smith.

The Tar Heels are the third seeded team in the ACC Tournament and will play the winner of Florida State and Clemson at 9:30 Friday night.

Duke had already wrapped up the second seed and Carolina had already wrapped up the third seed even before the game.

The two teams could meet again in the ACC semi-finals on Saturday if they both win their first tourney games.


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