No. 5 North Carolina rebuffs No. 17 Duke

By The Sports Xchange

March 5 (UPI) -- CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- The only way for No. 5 North Carolina to find real joy at the end of the regular season was to finish with pizzazz.

Joel Berry II scored 28 points and North Carolina pulled away in the final minutes to defeat No. 17 Duke 90-83 in another riveting clash between the ACC rivals Saturday night at the Smith Center


The Tar Heels put the exclamation point on a regular-season championship by avenging last month's defeat.

"This is something we always wanted all along," said senior forward Kennedy Meeks, wearing a net around his neck. "We pulled together at the end and made it a special game."

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Justin Jackson hit a tiebreaking 3-pointer with less than six minutes to play and assisted on Isaiah Hicks' three-point play on the next possession for a 77-71 lead. Jackson had been 0 for 6 from long range, but his 3 allowed the Tar Heels to keep the lead the rest of the way.

Hicks, a senior who missed the first meeting with Duke with a hamstring injury, finished with 21 points and Jackson added 15 for North Carolina (26-6, 14-4 ACC).


"We wanted to do a much better job in the paint area than we did over there (at Duke)," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said, referring to interior scoring. "We did that with 44 points (in the paint)."

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Luke Kennard's 28 points led Duke. Frank Jackson had 15 points, Grayson Allen poured in 14 points and Jayson Tatum provided 13 points for the Blue Devils (23-8, 11-7), who will be seeded fifth in the ACC Tournament and play a second-round game Wednesday. Amile Jefferson, who had eight of Duke's first 10 points, finished with 12 points.

"We were in position to win," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We played winning basketball."

Allen missed a pair of free throws at the 2:04 mark. Berry converted on a runner at the other end for an 85-79 advantage. Allen made 1 of 2 with 35.9 seconds on the clock.

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"For us, we're right there," Allen said. "We were in position to win. A few plays here and there and that's really the difference in a game like this."


With Louisville defeating Notre Dame earlier in the day, North Carolina had already secured the outright regular-season championship for the 21st time. It was locked into the No. 1 seed for the ACC tournament since last weekend.

"When it's time for (tip-off), that's all that matters," Hicks said of winning the regular-season finale against Duke.

After 17 lead changes, North Carolina led 48-46 at halftime, largely behind Berry's 19 points.

If that wasn't enough, North Carolina legend Michael Jordan was honored during a midcourt ceremony at halftime. He spoke briefly as the crowd roared its approval.

Berry scored on four jumpers -- three from 3-point range -- in the opening 10 minutes.

"They scored the ball a lot, we scored the ball a lot," Duke's Jackson said. "It was a hard-fought game. We felt we had good shots there at the end."

Allen's four-point play, with his first field goal of the game, pushed Duke to a 40-34 lead with 4:58 to play in the first half.

The Blue Devils shot 54.2 percent from the field and made 16 of 17 free throws in the opening half, yet trailed at the half for the seventh time in nine ACC road games.


With 3:09 left in the half, Allen drew a foul on North Carolina's Brandon Robinson, but Allen was assessed a technical foul for an elbow in conjunction with the play.

That raised the already-screeching volume in the arena.

NOTES: North Carolina leads the series 135-109, but Duke won 12 of the last 17 meetings. ... North Carolina honored five seniors before the game for Senior Night. Normal reserves Nate Britt, Stilman White and Kanler Coker were in the starting lineup. ... North Carolina's 48 first-half points were the most allowed in a first half by Duke this season. This came after the Tar Heels lost 53-43 on Monday night at Virginia. ... Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski had directed 15 road victories against top-5 teams. That's the most wins for any coach in that category. ... North Carolina plays Thursday afternoon in the ACC tournament quarterfinals against eighth-seeded Syracuse or No. 9 seed Miami at Brooklyn, N.Y.

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