SMITH CENTER/CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina sent its senior class out triumphantly on Sunday evening, besting archrival Duke in a 79-71 dogfight that was unresolved until the final minute and clinching the ACC regular season championship in the process.
It was senior day at the Dean Dome, and Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Green and Bobby Frasor all played their final game on their home court. Juniors Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington may depart for the NBA following this season as well, so clearly the emotional stakes — if not the actual stakes, in terms of the NCAA Tournament — were extremely high for the Tar Heels.
Hansbrough enjoyed another fine outing against the Blue Devils, going for 17 points and seven rebounds along with several key defensive plays.
Lawson, whose injured toe made him a game-time decision — and the roar elicited when he jogged onto the court to join his teammates in warm-ups was among the most spirited moments of the day — clearly was slowed but managed to accrue 13 points, nine assists and eight rebounds while logging a full 36 minutes of game action.
Although he didn't dominate as he did in Carolina's win at Duke last month, Lawson made several momentous plays during the game's late stages and converted a three-point play that made Duke's climb much steeper.
For the Blue Devils, Jon Scheyer was nearly perfect. The junior guard put his versatility on display and provided an effort that included a perfect 7-for-7 shooting from the field for 24 points, and he also added five assists, three rebounds and four steals without committing a single turnover.
Kyle Singler swished a torrent of jump shots in the first half but appeared winded in the second, although he still managed 23 points and six boards for the game.
The bottom line, though, was UNC's ability to crush Duke on the glass. The Heels out-rebounded their opponents 37-22, a devastating advantage that enabled them to overcome Duke's greater number of made threes and free throws.
Carolina did allow Duke to shoot 56 percent in the first half, but that number dropped to 32 percent in the second frame. The Heels performed better defensively against the numerous high screens set by the Devils and, as mentioned, allowed Duke very few second shots.
Roy Williams was elated and relieved in the post-game press conference, using the words "big-time" on four separate occasions. He also complimented Duke's performance and his own team's resilience after its 0-2 start in conference play. The Heels finished 13-3 and won the ACC outright by two full games.
The ACC Tournament begins on Thursday, but neither UNC (No. 1 seed) nor Duke (No. 3) will take the floor until Friday. The Heels will face the winner of Virginia Tech vs. Miami, while the Devils will meet the winner of Boston College vs. Virginia.
The big story for Carolina this week will be whether Lawson can play next weekend, and how long it may be before he is fully recovered. He received a shot for pain prior to Sunday's game, but afterward he was limping very badly back to the locker room.
Roy Williams said on Monday that his status will be monitored throughout the week.
To see the UNC/Duke box score, click here.