DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Duke slowed the pace and made North Carolina play a halfcourt game. Under those circumstances, nobody plays better defense than the Blue Devils.
J.J. Redick scored 18 points, freshman DeMarcus Nelson added 16 and No. 7 Duke forced 23 turnovers to hold off the second-ranked Tar Heels 71-70 yesterday night.
North Carolina squandered a chance to win in the final seconds, never getting a shot off after inbounding with 18 seconds left. David Noel dribbled the ball out of bounds just as the buzzer sounded and the Cameron Crazies raced onto the court, celebrating the Blue Devils’ 15th victory in the past 18 games in this Tobacco Road rivalry.
Daniel Ewing finished with 15 points and helped the Blue Devils (18-2, 8-2) move into a first-place tie with North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Wake Forest trails both by one-half game.
Duke finished 21-of-22 from the free throw line and made 10 3-pointers. All but one of the Blue Devils’ baskets in the second half were 3s — only a layup by Nelson with about 10 minutes left came from inside the arc.
Sean May had 23 points and 18 rebounds for the Tar Heels (19-3, 8-2), who couldn’t overcome their shoddy ball control. Point guard Raymond Felton had eight turnovers and May added five, and the top assist team in Division I finished with only 10, 11 below its average.
Felton scored 13 points and freshman Marvin Williams had 12 for North Carolina.
But Nelson was the better first-year player in this one. He came up big when it counted, swishing two 3-pointers in a span of about 90 seconds in the second half to help Duke take a 49-42 lead. Williams helped the Tar Heels rally, powering over Shavlik Randolph for a layup that turned into a three-point play to tie it at 53 midway through the second half.
Ewing connected on consecutive 3s, Nelson added four free throws and Redick had another 3-pointer to give the Blue Devils a nine-point lead. Still, North Carolina didn’t give up.
Felton scored six quick points to offset two more free throws for Nelson, and May knocked down two at the line to bring the Tar Heels within three. Randolph increased the lead to five with Duke’s final points — again coming on free throws — and it was 71-66 with less than two minutes left.
May worked inside to tip in a miss by Rashad McCants, and Williams stuffed a layup by Nelson to set up McCants’s layup that cut the margin to one point. Redick then was forced to launch a shot from about 28 feet with the shot clock winding down, and the Tar Heels took possession with the game on the line.
Felton passed up an open shot to look down low for Williams or May, and he finally passed to Noel. But with time running out, Noel couldn’t get off a shot, and Duke survived.
McCants, the leading scorer for North Carolina, was only 3-of-13 from the field and had 11 points.