Heels get pay back against Duke, win regular season title

North Carolina led late against Duke again but this time didn’t let it get away as the Tar Heels ruined the Blue Devils’ Senior Night with a 76-72 win that secures the ACC regular season title. Two weeks ago, the Tar Heels let a late 8-point lead evaporate and the Devils came away with a one-point win at the end. At Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Tar Heels led by nine at 68-59 with just over three minutes to play. Despite the Devils hitting their 11th, 12th and 13th threes, the Tar Heels hung on for the win by sinking eight […]

North Carolina led late against Duke again but this time didn’t let it get away as the Tar Heels ruined the Blue Devils’ Senior Night with a 76-72 win that secures the ACC regular season title.

Two weeks ago, the Tar Heels let a late 8-point lead evaporate and the Devils came away with a one-point win at the end. At Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Tar Heels led by nine at 68-59 with just over three minutes to play.

Despite the Devils hitting their 11th, 12th and 13th threes, the Tar Heels hung on for the win by sinking eight straight free throws, including four by Marcus Paige in the last nine seconds.

“We’ve been in here in this situation before,” said UNC’s Brice Johnson, who led the Heels with 18 points and 21 rebounds. “Free throw shooting down the stretch has hurt us against them in the past.” But this time? “We were able to withstand their run.”

The Carolina senior class had not won at Cameron in their careers and Paige and Johnson seemed particularly emotional after the game. “We fought,” Paige said. “We hadn’t won over here so this means a lot… We held on. We did what champions do.”

The ACC regular season title was the first for the Tar Heels since 2012. “We set dreams that are reachable and this was one of our dreams,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “It’s always more impressive to me to win the regular season… but I like winning the tournament too.”

The Tar Heels will be the No. 1 seed in the ACC tournament – and will face either Pitt or Syracuse Thursday at noon – while Duke falls to the No. 5 seed and thus won’t receive a double bye as the top four clubs do.

If Carolina rebounds like it did against Duke, the Tar Heels will be a tough out in the tourney. Of course, the Heels had a size and depth advantage inside against the Devils. Still, Carolina hauled in a season-high 64 rebounds, 35 more than Duke managed. The 27 offensive rebounds were also the most for the Heels this season.

Kennedy Meeks played better than he has in a while as he scored 12 points and got 14 rebounds. All five starters scored in double figures for the Heels as Justin Jackson added 13, Joel Berry 12 and Paige 11.

The game’s leading scorer however was Grayson Allen who scored 29 points, which included 18 from beyond the arc. Overall he was just 11 of 28 from the field but a long, long, long three with 18 seconds left kept the Blue Devils in it. That three pointer cut the margin to three at 70-67.

Berry swished the front end of a one-and-one and canned the bonus shot to put Carolina up 72-67 with 17 seconds left.

Luke Kennard swished a three from the left corner to pull the Devils within two at 72-70 with 10 seconds left. But Paige hit a pair of free throws with 8.8 seconds left and, after a Marshall Plumlee dunk, he hit two more free throws with 1.5 seconds left to wrap it up.

Paige summarized the game well when he said, “I knocked down some free throws and we got another terrific effort from Brice.”

For more on the game, including a box score, please click here.