CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — North Carolina was forced to wait an extra eight days for its matchup with rival Duke, and then the Tar Heels waited until the second half to make their move.
Guard Marcus Paige scored two baskets down the stretch and added two clinching free throws as North Carolina overcame a double-digit deficit to knock off No. 5 Duke 74-66 Thursday night at the Smith Center.
“It ranks up there,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said of the satisfaction level after the outcome.
The game was postponed Feb. 12 because of a snowstorm.
“This is definitely the most intense game I’ve played in,” North Carolina forward J.P. Tokoto said. “I can’t even explain how I feel, I’m so excited.”
Guard Leslie McDonald scored 21 points to help North Carolina (19-7, 9-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) extend its winning streak to eight games. Fans flooded the court to celebrate the outcome.
“Last year on Senior Day, I felt we let the crowd down, and I didn’t want that to happen again,” Williams said.
There were particularly good vibes for McDonald, a senior who sat out at the beginning of the season awaiting an NCAA ruling on his eligibility.
“Everyone in the locker room feels really good for Leslie right now,” Williams said. “He was big for us, and we needed him to be big.”
Paige, who didn’t score in the first half, finished with 13 points, and North Carolina forward James Michael McAdoo added 10 points. It was the 11th time this season that Paige produced a double-digit second-half total after failing to reach 10 points in the first half.
Guard Quinn Cook and forward Jabari Parker scored 17 points for Duke, which saw its four-game winning streak end. Forward Rodney Hood added 16 points.
The Blue Devils (21-6, 10-4) experienced a letdown after a solid first half.
“It’s disappointing,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We didn’t match their level of intensity in the second half. Never in the second half did I feel we played the defense we’ve been playing for the last month. They outplayed us in the second half, and that’s the story of the game.”
North Carolina notched its second conquest of a nationally ranked team in six days, as it toppled then-No. 25 Pittsburgh on Saturday. The Tar Heels own five wins over ranked teams this season.
North Carolina was within 53-51 with seven minutes to play. Paige’s 3-point basket closed the gap to 57-56.
The Tar Heels pulled even at 60-60 with 4:23 to go on McAdoo’s basket. On the next possession, McDonald’s jumper gave North Carolina its first lead in 24 minutes of game time.
Paige didn’t score until hitting a jumper about 90 seconds into the second half.
Shortly after, Duke built an 11-point lead before the Tar Heels responded.
Part of the comeback came as the Blue Devils struggled to find a groove against a 1-3-1 zone defense.
“We have a lot of lengthy guys,” Tokoto said. “(That zone defense) is nothing new to us, but it’s new to them. … It kind of messed up them offensively.”
Duke shot 11-for-31 (35.5 percent) from the field in the second half.
“You can’t keep shooting (that percentage) and expect to win,” Krzyzewski said. “If you do that, you have to play great defense, and we gave up 44 points (after halftime).”
Until Thursday night, North Carolina had lost seven consecutive times to Duke when the first meeting of the season came in Chapel Hill.
Duke forward Marshall Plumlee said the Blue Devils will have to regroup to face top-ranked Syracuse on Saturday night.
“More importantly, we have to get our minds right,” Plumlee said.
Duke’s 37-30 halftime edge was its biggest lead of the half. The Blue Devils, who shot 16 of 32 from the field before the break, didn’t commit a turnover across the last 15 minutes of the half.
Hood scored 11 of the Blue Devils’ first 18 points, but he exited with his second foul less than eight minutes into the game. An 18-12 lead disappeared before Duke got going again.
North Carolina was held without a field goal across the final six minutes
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