Turns out North Carolina is better at playing Duke’s game than Duke is theirs.
With a free-flowing guard-based attack and a steady diet of 3-pointers, No. 21 UNC took Round 1 between the Triangle rivals.
Senior guard Joel Berry scored 21 points to lead the Tar Heels to an 82-78 win over No. 9 Duke on Thursday night at the Smith Center.
“This is my last time playing them in here,” Berry said. “I wanted to get this one.”
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While Berry handled the scoring, senior wing Theo Pinson helped keep Duke star Marvin Bagley (15 points) in check.
The season has been marked by a switch in traditional styles between the rivals. UNC (18-7, 7-5 ACC) has become the guard-based team while Duke has relied on its talented big men.
Despite Duke’s size advantage, UNC finished with a 20-11 advantage on the offensive glass. The Tar Heels also tied a school record for fewest turnovers, with only two.
Duke (19-5, 7-4) had its way inside early in the first half, with a boost from reserve forward Marques Bolden, and led by as many as 12.
The Blue Devils were playing loose and looked like a different team than the one that lost at St. John’s this past Saturday.
“I thought our kids responded really well from a really bad performance on Saturday,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I mean, the first half I thought we played a little better than they did. Then the start of the second half, they played great and we were awful.”
UNC used a 16-2 blitz at the start of the second half to pick up its biggest win of the season.
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Down 49-45 at the half, the Tar Heels blasted out of the halftime gate to take a 61-51 lead after a layup by guard Kenny Williams (20 points) at 15:49.
Williams made six 3-pointers and UNC finished with 11 3s. It was the first time since 2004, a span of 28 games, that the Heels out-scored Duke from the 3-point line.
“I thought in the second half, we were really good,” Roy Williams said.
UNC was up 72-62 with 9:28 left before Duke made it interesting and had the ball down 74-71 with 3:30 left but freshman guard Gary Trent (16 points) missed an open corner 3.
With the window open to put the Devils away, Cam Johnson (18 points, 13 rebounds) made a 3-pointer on UNC’s next trip down.
“I thought that was huge for us to give us a little space to breathe, a little bit of feeling better,” Williams said.
Berry made a pair of free throws with 2:29 left to push UNC’s margin back to 79-71 and it was all over but the shouting.
A dunk by Pinson with 11 seconds left provided plenty of opportunity for the shouting from the sellout crowd, which pegged near ear-splitting decibels after UNC’s second straight home win over the Devils.
Duke never could quite exploit its advantage inside in the second half with Bagley and freshman forward Wendell Carter (10 points) being held in check.
UNC, meanwhile, showed the Blue Devils they could beat them at their own game.
The Tar Heels are too tough down the stretch and hand Duke their fifth loss with 82-78 win. Chuck Liddycliddy@newsobserver.com
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio