In a series filled with thrillers, this was not one of them.
No. 3 North Carolina opened a 10-point first-half lead then held No. 7 Duke at bay in a 93-84 win Saturday in the latest chapter of college basketball's most storied rivalry.
Harrison Ingram and Armando Bacot powered the Tar Heels to victory. The effort marked a breakout for Bacot on the biggest stage of the season after he entered the showdown mired in a slump. For Ingram, it was another stellar performance in what's been a breakout season since he transferred from Stanford in the offseason.
UNC builds early lead with pressure, defense
As has been the case in Carolina's climb in the polls, defense set the tone Saturday. The Tar Heels converted six Duke turnovers into 10 first-half points en route to a 45-35 halftime lead.
The halftime point total marked the highest by any Duke opponent this season. UNC got there with leading ACC scorer R.J. Davis scoring just four points and attempting zero 3-pointers.
Early in the second half, the Tar Heels converted two turnovers in three Duke possessions into buckets to extend their lead to 63-48, putting the Blue Devils on their heels in front of a hostile Chapel Hill crowd. Duke maintained its poise to keep the game from turning into a blowout. But it never challenged a North Carolina team that was in control throughout.
North Carolina hit its free throws down the stretch as Duke fouled in an effort to keep the game competitive. The Blue Devils didn't get within seven points after halftime.
Bacot, Ingram both fill up box score
Bacot led the UNC scoring effort with 25 points alongside 10 rebounds and five assists. He hit 10 of his 13 field goal attempts and broke out of a slump that saw him tally 19 total points in his previous three games. Ingram added 21 points, 13 rebounds and four steals in another all-around effort that saw him hit 8 of 12 field goals including 5 of 9 from 3-point distance. Davis added 17 points and five assists while ceding the spotlight to his fellow All-ACC candidate teammates.
Freshman Jared McCain paced the Blue Devils with 23 points and 11 rebounds, while Kyle Filipowski added 20 points, five rebounds and a block. Senior guard Jeremy Roach tallied 20 points in his final game at the Dean Smith Center.
Duke shot well from the floor in a 50.7% effort, but lost the 3-point and turnover battles. North Carolina connected on 37.5% of its 3-point shots while maintaining an 11-5 edge in turnovers. A team that's thrived at perimeter defense for most of the season, UNC limited Duke to 26.3% (5 of 19) from long distance.
UNC breaks 2-game losing streak to Duke with retooled roster
The win is North Carolina's first over Duke since it beat the Blue Devils in the 2022 Final Four in coach Mike Krzyzewski's career finale. Duke responded by sweeping the series last season as North Carolina fell from preseason No. 1 to out of the NCAA tournament.
Hubert Davis retooled the Carolina roster in the offseason as Caleb Love led an exodus in the transfer portal. In came Ingram, Cormac Ryan (from Notre Dame) and vaunted freshman point guard Elliot Cadeau, who have become mainstays in the starting lineup to lead the turnaround alongside Bacot and Davis, both fifth-year seniors.
Alongside strong play from the bench, it's added up to a 10-1 start in the ACC and a win over a Duke team that returned preseason All-ACC players Filipowski and Tyrese Proctor. Duke's having a strong season of its own, having entered Saturday with wins in 11 of its previous 12 games. It will have to wait for March 9 for another shot at the rivalry when the Tar Heels and Blue Devils play at Cameron Indoor Stadium.