North Carolina reestablished itself as the team to beat in the Atlantic Coast Conference today, stealing first palce away from visiting Duke, 74-68.
The 10,000 howling fans in Carmichael Auditorium watched with delight as the nation's third-ranked team held off its seventh-ranked Tobacco Road neighbor in a rematch of the ACC's highest-rated teams.
The Blue Devils, who fell out of first place in the ACC to a 1-1 mark, made a run at the Heels in the final two minutes but ultimately fell victim to the likes of Mike O'Koren, who scored 17 points, had 20 rebounds and held Duke's Gene Banks scoreless in the second half.
The Blue Devils, who beat North Carolina at the start of the season in the Big Four tournament, haven't defeated the Heels here since 1966, and fell to 10-3 overall. Carolina is 3-1 in the ACC and 11-2 overall.
Duke led, 35-34, at the half but the Tar Heels opened the second period with six straight points and Duke never led again.
The Blue Devils pulled to 52-50 with 11:51 left, then went scoreless the next 4:49 as Carolina turned to the four-corners offense and stretched its lead to 59-50.
Center Mike Gminski scored Duke's next eight points but Carolina remained in control, 63-58, with 4:10 left.
Working a delay offense to perfection and taking advantage of 21 Duke turnovers, most of them late in the game, UNC pulled ahead, 68-60, with 1:31 remaining.
Duke guard Bob Bender cut the margin in half with a four-point play, hitting a layup and sinking two free throws after an undercutting foul.
Vince Taylor's 16-footer pulled Duke to 69-66 with 38 seconds left, then one of the worst foul shooters on Carolina's team, Jimmy Black, made three of four free shots for a 72-68 margin with 24 seconds left. Black was a 55.6 percent free-throw shooter entering the game.
Kenny Dennard missed a corner shot, A1 Wood dunked and Dudley Bradley blocked Jim Spanarkel's lastsecond shot to finish the scoring in the last half-minute.
Other than Gminski's late flurry, which raised his scoring total to 22, the Blue Devils could not get anything working in the second half. The best foul-shooting team in the nation last year, Duke made only 14 of 23 today, while Carolina sank 24 of 38.
Banks scored all his 16 points in the first half and Spanarkel, who had stomach cramps this morning, also scored 16. Duke point guards John Harrell and Bender each had five turnovers.
"We played inconsistently offensively," said Duke Coach Bill Foster. "We seem to be on a roller coaster. We play well for a while, very well, then we have dry spells. We make two or three turnovers and then we can't score."
That was the script of the second half, and it didn't help Duke's cause when Banks went to the bench in foul trouble.
Carolina sharpshooter A1 Wood matched O'Koren's 17 points, hitting seven of 13 shots.
Eleven of O'Koren's points came at the foul line. Bradley added 12 and John Virgil 11.
"Except for our turnovers and their free throws, everything looks pretty even," said Foster.
"This was certainly a great victory for us," said Carolina Coach Dean Smith. "I thought we had it put away, then it took Jimmy Black's free throws to put it away.
"Duke can still win the national championship. Three or four teams in our league can. It is too early to call this a key win."
Carolina will play 10th-ranked Arkansas Sunday afternoon without starting guard Dave Colescott, who was sent to the hospital today with internal bleeding after getting hit in the face early in the game.