DURHAM, N.C. — Rarely has the Duke-Carolina matchup disappointed. And it certainly didnt Wednesday night.
Gone were the urgency issues that have plagued the Tar Heels all year. And also absent was the dominating start most had expected from the No. 2 Blue Devils.
Duke was out of sorts for the first half, and the Blue Devils needed a spark. And Quinn Cook, the most fiery and emotional Blue Devil, provided it.
Cook poked a ball free from Reggie Bullock, and Bullock was whistled for a foul which sent Cook to the floor. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski ran out onto the floor, and Cook popped up, waving his arms, pumping up the crowd.
After that, it all started clicking for No. 2 Duke (22-2, 9-2 in the ACC), which overcame its slow start to beat North Carolina 73-68.
P.J. Hairston, who earned his second start of the year, led the Tar Heels with 23 points, and his fellow perimeter players, Bullock and Dexter Strickland, finished with 15 and 14, respectively. But once Duke found its shooting touch midway through the second half, the Tar Heels jumpers stopped falling.
North Carolina (16-8, 6-5), which had led the entire first half, still had a 38-31 advantage when Cook forced the steal. But the lead was gone quickly.
On Dukes next offensive possession, Cook collected a loose-ball rebound and drew another foul, this time from Dexter Strickland. Once play resumed, Tyler Thornton hit a 3, his second of the game, and Duke was back within a possession at 38-35. Out of the media timeout, Rasheed Sulaimon drove and converted a layup to pull Duke within one, 38-37.
P.J. Hairstons first 3 of the game temporarily halted the run and prevented Duke from taking the lead right then. But a lay-in from Josh Hairston and an offensive foul on UNCs Hairston gave Duke another chance, and this time the Blue Devils took it. Seth Curry hit a 3, his first from downtown on the day, and Duke held its first lead, 42-41, with just over 14 minutes remaining.
Duke didnt trail the rest of the way.
When Sulaimon hit a 3 a minute later to give Duke a 47-43 lead, Roy Williams called a timeout to try to stop the 12-5 Duke run from getting worse.
The Blue Devils hit another 3 (Thornton) and Plumlee, who struggled all night, hit a layup for a 52-47 lead with 11 minutes, 36 seconds to go. The next basket wouldnt come for another four minutes both teams went cold before Plumlee hit another shot to put Duke ahead 54-47, the Blue Devils largest lead of the game. A Seth Curry 3 with five minutes left put Duke ahead 59-51.
Life from behind the 3-point arc was nowhere to be found in the first half, as the ACCs best 3-point shooting team was 1-of-4, with Tyler Thornton providing the lone make. All of the Blue Devils struggled to find their shots early. Quinn Cook hit a few floaters in the lane to lead the team with 10 points at the half. Mason Plumlee had eight, and no other Duke player had more than four.
Duke couldnt find any rhythm in the first half, turning the ball over 11 times and making just 12 shots from the field. It was North Carolina that came out strong, and the Tar Heels led 33-29 at the break.
North Carolina capitalized on three early Duke turnovers, turning them into seven points. As the Tar Heels took advantage of defensive lapses and mismatches, whether it was McAdoo going in free for a dunk or Marcus Paige driving to the basket on Alex Murphy. And unlike Duke, the Tar Heels also connected from deep, thanks to a 3-for-3 performance from Bullock. The final one gave UNC a 28-18 lead, forcing Mike Krzyzewski to call a timeout.
The uneven effort level that has plagued North Carolina all year was nowhere to be found in Cameron.