DURHAM -- North Carolina entered Thursday night's game against No. 2 Duke facing questions about its foul shooting.
The Tar Heels had made just 63.8 percent of their attempts, the worst mark in the ACC.
How appropriate that they would have to slay that dragon before knocking off Duke, their worst nemesis.
Center Brendan Haywood, UNC's second-worst foul shooter (48.6 percent) among the team's regulars, broke an 83-83 tie by sinking a pair of free throws with 1.2 seconds left in the game.
When Chris Duhon's desperation heave from halfcourt clanged off the iron, the Tar Heels had secured their first win against Duke in six tries.
"To be a senior, to come in here undefeated and to hit the free throws, I couldn't have written a better script," Haywood said.
The Blue Devils were doing plenty of writing of their own in the second half. With his team trailing 83-80, Duke swingman Mike Dunleavy canned a 3-pointer from the right wing with 3.9 seconds left to send the Cameron Indoor Stadium crowd of 9,314 into a frenzy and the game into overtime.
Well, not so fast with that last part.
After a UNC timeout, Joseph Forte took a pass on the run down the right sideline. He skipped the ball across the court to Haywood, who collided with Duke forward Shane Battier.
Foul on Battier. He was disqualified, and Haywood was in position to be a hero.
"You'd like to see something with a shot," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said of the call that sent Haywood to the line. "But they see it, and they call it. We're big boys."
The game's ending was a cruel irony for Duke (19-2, 7-1 in the ACC), which entered the contest second in the league in foul shooting at 72.2 percent. The Blue Devils made just 13 of their 27 free throws against the Tar Heels.
Point guard Jason Williams, a 74.4-percent foul shooter, was 4-for-10.
"It was one of those days where everything snowballed," said Duke guard Nate James, a 81.5 percent foul shooter who was 2-for-4. "It was just a nightmare out there. We're just so used to going to the free throw line and knocking them down."
The Blue Devils also shot less than their best from long range. Duke fired up 35 3-pointers and made 12 -- a fine number for many teams -- but not for a unit that had hit 42.6 percent for the year.
North Carolina, the ACC's best field-goal percentage defense, played as it had for most of the season. The Tar Heels mixed their man-to-man and zone, relying more on the zone in the second half in an attempt to stop Williams' penetration.
Duke got looks, but most of them were contested.
"We're fortunate that they didn't shoot very well," UNC coach Matt Doherty said. "That is very unusual for this Duke team. I'm very lucky to be sitting here as the winning coach."
Doherty also might have said that he's lucky to have Joseph Forte on his team. Forte had his typical game on offense, slashing through Duke's defense for 24 points on 10-of-18 shooting.
But the 6-foot-4 sharpshooter was a monster on the boards, grabbing 16 rebounds to set a UNC record for guards.
"I was going to focus on getting rebounds," Forte said. "They weren't going to let me just score."
It was Forte who got the Tar Heels (18-2, 8-0) a cushion after the two teams played even in the game's first 10 minutes. He scored 11 of UNC's 17 points in a five-minute span to give them a 38-27 lead with 5:12 to go.
Duke fell behind because its shots weren't falling. The Blue Devils shot 33 percent in the first half and were just 4-for-15 from 3-point range.
That changed after halftime, and Duke took the lead 55-53. Battier, who finished with 15 points, rallied from a 1-for-8 first half to spark the comeback. He knocked down three 3-pointers in the second half.
But the Tar Heels were up to the challenge. UNC retook the lead, thanks in part to three consecutive layups by point guard Ronald Curry, and held on.
The Tar Heels, the guys who couldn't shoot free throws, made 11 of their last 12 to end the game.
It was a fitting ending, especially for Haywood, who had never won at Duke.
"I said a little prayer when Brendan was at the foul line," Doherty said. "There's not a young man who works any harder at his game than Brendan. He's been scrutinized a lot for his foul shooting. For him to hit those two shots, he deserved that."
The Sports Editor can be reached at email@example.com.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.