Jasmine Thomas didn't need any last-second heroics to win her final regular-season game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
She had plenty of other reasons — beating a rival, clinching part of a title and sharing the experience with the other two seniors — for it to rank among her favorites.
Thomas scored 17 points and No. 9 Duke clinched the top seed in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament by beating No. 13 North Carolina 66-58 on Sunday.
Fellow senior Karima Christmas added 14 points, 10 rebounds and three 3-pointers for the Blue Devils (26-3, 12-2). They won their third straight by building a 52-46 rebounding advantage, forcing 19 turnovers, building a 14-point lead after a 21-5 run — and then holding off North Carolina's late attempt to get back in it.
Senior Night "brings all those emotions and all that energy together, and everyone realizes that you only get one chance to have this team," Thomas said. "So I think going into the tournament, it's good to have this game because everyone's realizing this is our last chance to do something great with this team. In that sense, we do have that momemtum. It brings everyone to realize it's time to really focus and get things done."
Italee Lucas scored 15 points and Chay Shegog added 14 for the Tar Heels (22-7, 8-6), the No. 6 seed for the league tournament that begins Thursday in Greensboro. They were held to two field goals in a 9-minute stretch that coincided with Duke's big run, were outrebounded 27-17 in the second half and went on to their fourth straight loss.
"I told them, 'Look, they're getting chewed out in the locker room for you outrebounding them at halftime. I can guarantee you they're going to come out a lot more aggressive to the boards.' ... And they did," North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "And for a couple minutes, we didn't quite match them, but then I thought we did start matching them. ... A few more shots to fall here or there, a couple more rebounds, and it could have been a different game."
Allison Vernerey added 11 points and Krystal Thomas had 13 rebounds for Duke, which improved to 7-3 against Top 25 opponents and claimed a share of the regular-season title with No. 12 Miami. The top seed went to the Blue Devils for the second straight year and ninth time in school history based on their 82-58 rout of the Hurricanes on Feb. 3.
"The regular-season title means a lot — until next weekend," Jasmine Thomas said. "That's when you've got to let it go, because it doesn't help you win anything else."
The Tar Heels made things interesting late, with Shegog pulling them to 64-58 with a three-point play with 1:29 remaining. Christmas and Thomas each hit a free throw in the final 1:02 and the Blue Devils came up with three straight stops to seal it.
Duke won its 23rd straight at Cameron, matching its second-longest winning streak there. The Blue Devils will get their chance to equal and then break the school record of 24 in a few weeks when they play host to the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament.
Christmas was determined not to allow her final regularly scheduled meeting with the Tar Heels to come down to a final shot, as the teams' previous matchup did. North Carolina won 62-60 three weeks ago in a thriller that wasn't decided until Waltiea Rolle's buzzer-beating block of a layup by Duke's Chelsea Gray that would have forced overtime.
Neither team led the rematch by more than seven until midway through the second half, when the Blue Devils finally came up with the big run that gave themselves some separation. That run was marked by a pair of 3s from Christmas, who started the burst by hitting from long range to put Duke ahead to stay and make it 38-37 with 16½ minutes remaining.
Then, after a pair of baskets by both Shay Selby and Haley Peters, Christmas connected again to make it 53-42 and give the Blue Devils their first double-figure lead. Jasmine Thomas added a 3 from the corner 2 minutes later to make it a 14-point game.
The Blue Devils shot nearly 47 percent in the second half after being held to 24 percent shooting in the opening 20 minutes.
"We simplified things offensively, and the team just slowed down and had more fun on offense," coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "We were shooting too quick in the first half, we were fueling their transition, we were not positioned to offensive rebound — just not as sharp. ... Second half, it was very poised, and when we're poised, that's what we'll shoot — that kind of number or better."
North Carolina lost its third straight at Cameron, and this marked the third straight year that the rivals located 8 miles apart split their regular-season series. The Tar Heels slipped to 1-4 since beating the Blue Devils 20 days earlier, and that slump cost them a chance at a first-round bye, so now they'll have to win four games in four days to win the ACC tournament.
"We're right there. ACC tournament's a new season, a four-game season," Lucas said. "We're going in with that mindset."