DURHAM, N.C. – Kendall Marshall had 20 points and 10 assists, and No. 6 North Carolina beat No. 4 Duke 88-70 on Saturday night to win the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title.
Tyler Zeller had 19 points and 10 rebounds, and Harrison Barnes added 16 points for the Tar Heels (27-4, 14-2). They never trailed, and for the second straight year they rolled in a winner-take-all season finale with the ACC tournament's top seed on the line.
North Carolina shot 54.5 percent, built a 45-28 rebounding advantage and sent Duke to its deepest halftime deficit ever at Cameron Indoor Stadium — 24 points — while winning its seventh straight since last month's loss to the Blue Devils.
Mason Plumlee had 17 points, brother Miles Plumlee added 16 points and 11 rebounds and freshman Austin Rivers — the hero of that last meeting — had 15 points for the Blue Devils (26-5, 13-3).
But Duke — which erased a 10-point deficit in the final 2½ minutes to win the first matchup, then rallied from 20 down in the second half to beat North Carolina State — couldn't come up with another improbable escape and instead had its seven-game winning streak snapped.
Duke was trying for its second regular-season sweep of North Carolina in three years, after the Blue Devils won a dramatic first matchup last month in Chapel Hill. They hit 14 3-pointers in that game — none bigger than Rivers' buzzer-beater that punctuated the 85-84 win.
For too long in this one, those shots didn't fall.
The perimeter-reliant Blue Devils finished 6 of 21 from 3-point range. They missed 15 consecutive attempts, including their first seven 3-pointers, and had two 7-minute field goal droughts in the opening half. That left them down 48-24 at the break — their largest halftime deficit anywhere since the 1990 team trailed the Tar Heels by 24 in Chapel Hill.
The closest they got in the second half was 75-64 on Miles Plumlee's free throw with 6:01 left. But Seth Curry missed an open 3-pointer roughly 30 seconds later that would have brought down the house.
Marshall then hit a 19-footer with 4 minutes left, James Michael McAdoo added a layup and Barnes swished a deep 3 to stretch it to 82-64 with 2 minutes left.
For Zeller, it was a welcome catharsis after his late-game struggles in the previous meeting. Back then, he accidentally batted a ball into the Duke basket and missed two free throws in the final minute before Rivers hit the winning 3 over him at the buzzer.
Those noisy Cameron Crazies persistently reminded him of it, chanting "Tyler Zeller, MVP" at him during pregame warmups.
The North Carolina big man got the last laugh, making his final trip to Cameron one to remember by hitting nine of his 11 shots before fouling out in the final minute. Only when he and John Henson got in foul trouble did the Tar Heels' offense slow down.
Henson had 13 points and 10 rebounds, giving the Tar Heels three players with double-doubles — the first time they've done that since 2003 — while Reggie Bullock added 12 points.
Curry finished with 12 points on 3-of-13 shooting for Duke.
There's always plenty on the line when these longtime Tobacco Road rivals meet, but this marked the 12th time since coach Mike Krzyzewski arrived in Durham in 1980 that the winner earned some type of ACC championship — either the outright regular-season crown or the conference tournament title. Duke won six of those previous matchups, but only one of those came in a regular-season finale.
Among the famous faces in the crowd were NFL players Peyton Manning — who has been throwing on campus under the tutelage of his college offensive coordinator, Duke coach David Cutcliffe. Manning sat next to Cutcliffe in a courtside seat under the basket the Blue Devils defended in the first half.
Those two saw plenty of early action — all by the Tar Heels.
North Carolina once again raced out to a quick double-figure lead, this time riding an 18-1 run in which it converted nearly every shot it took in the paint. Zeller hit a fast-break layup to make it 22-5 roughly 7½ minutes in, and the Tar Heels methodically built upon that lead the rest of the half.
Barnes pushed it into the 20s when his free throw with 2:17 left made it 40-20, and Marshall's jumper with 3 seconds remaining stretched it to 48-24 at the break.