Phil Ford went out in style.
He stood at midcourt before the game trying vainly to fight back the tears, as 10,000 University of North Carolina fans at Carmichael Arena screamed their heads off. It was to be Ford's last game here.
Ford wiped the tears from his eyes and then went out and shot the eyes out of the basket for a career-high 34 points as the Tar Heels dumped Duke, 87-83, to win the regular season Atlantic Coast Conference championship.
The victory gave the Tar Heels a first-round bye in the ACC tournament opening Wednesday.
Ford, who didn't play in Carolina's loss to North Carolina State Thursday because of an injured left wrist, was a vintage Ford today, priceless and rare.
He sank 13 of 19 field-goal attempts and had five assists and two steals.
His two free throws with six seconds left gave Carolina its final points.
"Phil Ford has played some great games, but he was unreal today," Coach Dean Smith said. "He is great, great, great."
Duke moved to an early 10-point lead but Carolina scored the last eight points of the first half to trail by only one at intermission, 37-36.
Freshman Al Wood scored 12 points in the final nine minutes of the game and Duke freshman Gene Banks had 10 in the same span.
While those two were dueling, Ford and Jim Spanarkel were going at it from long range.
Carolina appeared to have things under control when a dunk by Jeff Wolf gave it an 80-74 lead with 2:30 to play. The Tar Heels were in their four-corner offense and with Ford in action the Blue Devils appeared dead.But Bob Bender hit a long jumper and Duke quickly fouled Wolf. He missed the front end of his one-and-one and Banks hurried down and banged in a turnaround jumper to cut Carolina's lead to two points 80-78 1:50 left.
After O'Koren and Banks exchanged baskets, Carolina increased its lead to four points on two free throws by Wood a minute later, but it was cut back to two on a short hook by Mike Gminski with 55 seconds to play.
Duke fouled Tom Zaliagiris the next time Carolina had the ball, but he missed his first free throw. Wolf knocked the rebound back toward midcourt and Carolina kept possession.
Mike O'Koren, playing for Carolina for the first time in two weeks since spraining his ankle, appeared to have an easy layup, but Gminaki blocked it.
As Spanarkel, who finished with 23 points, dribbled and looked for an opening, Ford fouled him in an attempt for a steal with 26 seconds left.
Spanarkel, an 87 percent free throw shooter who had made six in a row, hit the first, but missed the second, keeping Carolina on top, 84-83. Carolina rebounded and Duke was forced to foul again.
O'Koren made one free throw and again Wolf was there to control the rebound after O'Koren missed the second.
Duke then fouled Ford with six seconds left and the Tar Heels were winners.
Wood made six of eight shots and finished with 19 points. He made six straight free throws in the second half.
Ford sat by his locker after the game and praised Wood. He stepped up there and knocked those free throws in. That says enough about him, doesn't it?"
Ford, in his usual manner, said he didn't realize he scored as many points as he did and didn't really care, either.
"We got the breaks at the end," he said. "We got the rebounds, we made the free throws and we won the game. All I did was help."
Duke and Carolina went into the game with 8-3 conference records and the Blue Devils were slight favorites because they are healthy and Ford and O'Koren were questionable for Carolina.