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March 13, 2011
Nolan Smith had 20 points and the Blue Devils ended No. 6 North Carolina's run of big comebacks at the ACC Tournament with their 75-58 win over the Tar Heels in Sunday's ACC Championship game.
Kyle Singler added 11 points for the Blue Devils (30-4), who led the entire way for a record 19th tournament title. In the first meeting between the fierce rivals in the finals in a decade, second-seeded Duke led by 18 points in the first half and never let the top-seeded Tar Heels (26-7) build any momentum for a third straight tournament escape.
North Carolina had rallied from 19 down in the final 10 minutes to beat Miami on a last-play layup in the quarterfinals, then rallied from 14 down to force overtime and beat Clemson in the semifinals. This time, however, the Tar Heels got no closer than nine after halftime as the veteran Blue Devils maintained firm control from the tip.
The Blue Devils won their third straight tournament and their 10th in 13 years, putting them two ahead of the Tar Heels in the all-time standings.
Smith was named tournament MVP after overcoming a jammed toe in the quarterfinals against Maryland and finishing with 10 assists, while Singler had a better showing after struggling mightily against the Tar Heels in the two regular-season meetings. But on Sunday, the supporting cast backed up Duke's senior stars in a way it had failed to do in last week's loss to the Tar Heels that gave North Carolina the ACC regular-season title outright.
Seth Curry had 11 points, including a crucial 3-pointer after the Tar Heels had pulled to within nine. Ryan Kelly added another 3 a few minutes later that helped silence North Carolina's last-gasp push to get back in it and finished with nine points.
Duke shot 62 percent in the first half and 50 percent for the game. The Blue Devils shut down North Carolina's offense and held the Tar Heels to 34 percent shooting in a dominant performance that could put the reigning national champions in line for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Harrison Barnes struggled to get things going a day after scoring a tournament freshman record 40 points against Clemson, finishing with 16 points to lead the Tar Heels.
Tyler Zeller had 14 points while John Henson added 10 points and 18 rebounds, but North Carolina never looked anything like the team that had won 19 of 21 games.
Then again, the Tar Heels never looked like themselves in Greensboro at all.
Henson acknowledged after the Clemson win that the Tar Heels couldn't keep this up much longer considering how those slow starts could cost them not only an ACC title, but could also mean an early exit from the NCAAs. Yet North Carolina started with the same indifferent performance from the previous two games, while Duke looked more active, more aggressive and just more determined from the opening tip.
The Blue Devils scored on their first four possessions for an 8-0 lead while North Carolina bumbled its way through the opening 2 minutes. That lead would grow to 18 points when Andre Dawkins took a kickout feed from Smith and buried a 3-pointer to make it 40-22 with 1:42 left before halftime.
The Tar Heels didn't make much of a push until the final 7 minutes when Barnes hit a 3-pointer then followed with a jumper that bounced high off the back of the rim before dropping through the net. That brought the Tar Heels to within 63-54 with 5:54 left and had a largely light-blue tinged Greensboro Coliseum crowd into a roar that another improbable rally could be in the works.
But Smith evaded a trap out near halfcourt then found Curry on the left side for a crushing 3-pointer that pushed the margin back to 66-54. Then, after Barnes missed a good look on a transition 3, Smith found Ryan Kelly in the far right corner for another 3 that made it 69-56 with 4:44 left.
Smith added two more free throws then Mason Plumlee threw down a victory-punctuating dunk for a 73-56 lead.
Finally, with the game in hand, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski could substitute Smith and Singler out of the game with 52.4 seconds left to a standing ovation from Duke fans. The Hall of Famer greeted both with a hug - Smith practically jumped in his arms - while North Carolina coach Roy Williams joined the applause for Duke's four-year stars as they left the ACC Tournament with three titles.