CHARLOTTE — In the third meeting between the rivals this season, No. 3 seed Duke (28-5) got its revenge on No. 2 seed North Carolina (27-6) with a 74-73 win in the ACC Tournament semifinals.
Duke’s first-year phenom, Zion Williamson, in his first and likely last game against North Carolina, dropped 31 points. None were more important than his putback layup off his own miss — which gave the Blue Devils a one-point lead with 31 seconds left.
Coby White had a last-second attempt to wins things after R.J. Barrett missed both free throws, but his 3-pointer fell short, as did Nassir Little’s putback attempt.
At the first media timeout, UNC led 8-6. All eight of those points came from graduate guard Cameron Johnson, off two threes and a mid-range jumper.
UNC also frustrated Zion Williamson early, thanks to the likes of Nassir Little and Garrison Brooks on defense. At the eight-minute mark, Williamson had managed just four points on 2-6 shooting, a sharp contrast from his perfect 13-13 performance against Syracuse the previous night.
UNC led 29-20 at that under-eight timeout. As a team, Duke was 9-24 from the field (38 percent) had failed to make a 3-pointer, while UNC was 11-23 (48 percent) and held a 29-20 lead. The Tar Heels, at one point, made eight of 10 shots.
A Brooks dunk soon gave UNC a 33-20 lead, its largest of the night, at the 6:24 mark. From there, however, Duke ended the half on a 24-11 run. The teams entered halftime tied 44-44.
Williamson recovered from his slow start to post 16 points in the first half, dunking home an alley-oop and sinking two threes. Johnson led UNC with 16 of his own, while Luke Maye added eight.
The Blue Devils started the second half on a 8-2 run, which culminated with a tough layup by Cam Reddish to give them a 52-46 lead. UNC answered with a Maye putback followed by back-to-back slams by Little – one assisted by White, the other following up on a missed White layup – to tie the game at 52 and force a Duke timeout.
UNC responded well to a pair of second-half highlight-reel dunks from Williamson. After the first, a baseline slam over Brooks, UNC rushed down court and got an open dunk of its own for Johnson.
After the second, a breakaway tomahawk,UNC went on a rapid 7-0 run which included a Brandon Robinson putback and a Cameron Johnson jumper to give the Tar Heels a 65-63 lead.
North Carolina then suffered a brutal cold stretch, making 2 of 10 shots and failing to score for a full 4:35 of game time starting at the 8:22 mark. Duke managed four points in that stretch to take a 67-65 lead at the under-four timeout. The drought was ended by a free throw from Little to shave the Duke lead to one, setting the stage for a tense last few minutes.
After a Blue Devil turnover, Johnson hustled for a tough and-one layup through contact and made the free throw – 69-67, UNC. Moments later, Maye tossed in an and-one of his own, but missed the free throw. Williamson promptly had an and-one for Duke and sank his free throw, leaving the Tar Heels clinging to a one point lead with 2:30 remaining.
Duke’s Jordan Goldwire scored from point-blank range after a loose ball. Then Little did the same, off a White assist, to give UNC a 73-72 lead. But Williamson, isolated against Little on Duke’s next possession, scored off his own miss — giving him 31 points and Duke a 74-73 lead.
A potential game-winner for Coby White, a pull-up jumper with just seconds left, rimmed out, and a putback attempt by Little didn’t fall, handing UNC its first loss to Duke since March 3 of last year.
Who stood out?
Williamson was a star all night with a game-high 31. He brought a raucous Spectrum Center crowd to its feet with several dunks. Barrett added 15 points of his own.
For UNC, Johnson racked up a team-high 23. Maye had 14, and White, who took UNC’s last shot, had 11.
When was it decided?
The game wasn’t decided until the final buzzer, when the White jumper and ensuing putback didn’t fall and the Blue Devils held on by a thin margin against their rival.
Why does it matter?
With the loss, UNC failed to register its first three-win season against Duke since the 1975-76 season. This also marks UNC’s first loss since Feb. 11, when the Tar Heels lost at home to Virginia.
Who do they play next?
The Tar Heels will regroup and await the results of the NCAA Tournament committee, hoping to receive a No. 1 seed to bolster hopes of a deep postseason run.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.