In what is always one of the most entertaining, thrilling rivalries in sports, no matter the proximity of the team records and rankings, No. 2 Duke escaped with a 73-68 win over North Carolina on Wednesday night.
For now, Tobacco Road belongs to the Blue Devils (22-2, 9-2 ACC).
North Carolina (16-8, 6-5), an 11-point underdog coming into the game, led for the first half of the game but couldn't finish a late comeback after Duke had taken control.
The first 20 minutes can only be described as sloppy.
Duke looked like it was sleepwalking for the majority of the half. It shot just 38.7 percent from the field and turned the ball over 11 times (to just three assists).
The Tar Heels weren't able to capitalize, though. They shot 40.6 percent from the field and got at least six points from four different players, but they turned the ball over an equally careless nine times.
Despite leading the entire way by as many as 10, Carolina held just a four-point advantage at the break.
The second half was all Duke.
Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee got themselves into foul trouble, but Mike Krzyzewski kept them in the game and the Tar Heels weren't able to take advantage.
The Blue Devils took their first lead of the game with just over 14 minutes to play and never looked back. While Curry (timely threes) and Plumlee (double-double) were important, it was the less heralded guys who stepped up when Coach K went to a four-guard lineup to turn the game around.
Quinn Cook not only filled up the box score (18 points, six rebounds, two assists, four steals), but he provided an important spark in front of an electric Cameron Indoor crowd.
Junior guard Tyler Thornton came off the bench and knocked down three treys. And Rasheed Sulaimon, arguably the most composed true freshman in America, scored 13 points, hit an important three and dished out five assists.
What is North Carolina's tournament future?
Meanwhile, P.J. Hairston (23 points, eight rebounds, three assists) and Reggie Bullock (15 points and eight rebounds) were the top performers of the night for the losing side, as UNC fell apart after an encouraging first 25 minutes.
The Tar Heels turned the ball over (13 total giveaways), missed open shots (37.9 percent from the field), missed free throws (56.5 percent) and just couldn't get enough going when the Blue Devils finally started keeping them off the offensive glass.
While they mounted an intriguing late comeback, it wasn't enough, as Duke hit its free throws down the stretch.
This one wasn't always pretty and it won't go in the time capsule of this always memorable rivalry, but the Blue Devils will take the notch in the win column all the same.
Duke trailed at halftime, but ESPN's Dana O'Neil noted that it could have been a lot worse:
Well Duke has to be happy to be down four.— Dana O'Neil (@ESPNDanaOneil) February 14, 2013
CBS Sports' Will Brinson didn't want to sugarcoat the ugly first half:
Lets not portray this game as a "physical rivalry matchup" so far - some good moments but mostly a slopfest— Will Brinson (@willbrinson) February 14, 2013
Speaking of slopfest (via ESPN Stats & Info):
Duke committed 11 turnovers in the 1st half. Blue Devils average just 11 turnovers PG this season, 2nd-fewest in ACC (Miami (FL), 10.9)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 14, 2013
When Duke grabbed its first lead of the game on a Curry trey, Yahoo! Sports' Pat Forde noted the uptick in excitement at Cameron:
Amazing decibel levels on the Curry three. Literally could not hear Jeff Goodman right next to me.— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) February 14, 2013
A Rasheed Sulaimon three moments later might have even doubled that decibel level. CBS Sports' Seth Davis talked about the true freshman's greatest attribute:
Sulaimon's best asset is a lack of fear. Has been that way from day one.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) February 14, 2013
CBS Sports' Jeff Goodman summed it all up following the final whistle:
Game over. Duke beats UNC at Cameron. Tar Heels fought. Did not embarrass themselves.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanCBS) February 14, 2013