CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Duke looked on its way to a third straight win on the home court of its fiercest rival. Instead, the fifth-ranked Blue Devils couldn't find their shooting touch nor the intensity to answer North Carolina's go-ahead push in the second half.
It was enough to leave Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski frustrated by the way his team "played young."
"We didn't have it," Krzyzewski said after Duke's 74-66 loss on Thursday night. "Whatever the hell that thing is, in the second half, it wasn't in our huddle."
The Blue Devils led 37-30 at halftime and took their biggest lead at 51-40 with about 15 minutes left, but their shot abandoned them as the Tar Heels mixed a 1-3-1 zone with man defense. They missed 13 straight shots at one point and went scoreless for 6 minutes as UNC crawled back into the game.
Duke came in shooting 42 percent from 3-point range in league games but made just 5 of 22 in this one and shot 36 percent from the field after halftime.
"They did throw some new stuff at us," freshman Jabari Parker said of UNC's defensive switching, "but that's no excuse for us. I think we just did a bad job on offense."
Marcus Paige scored all 13 of his points in the second half, including two big baskets in the final 2½ minutes, to help the Tar Heels to their eighth straight win.
Senior Leslie McDonald added a season-high 21 points for the Tar Heels (19-7, 9-4 Atlantic Coast Conference), who snapped a two-game home losing streak to the Blue Devils (21-6, 10-4).
It was by far North Carolina's most impressive win during the run that has helped the Tar Heels dig out from an 0-3 ACC start. Before Thursday, most of the wins had come against teams standing sixth or lower in the league standings.
When it was over, UNC students and fans stormed to midcourt to celebrate a win that came eight days later than they had hoped due to a winter storm that forced the game's postponement last week. That storm brought enough snow and ice to paralyze area roads and keep Duke's bus from even making it to Durham to pick up the team for the 11-mile drive to the Smith Center in Chapel Hill.
In the end, the Tar Heels responded with a tough-minded but not always pretty performance that was good enough to wrestle control from the Blue Devils.
The Tar Heels shot 47 percent from the field and even made their last 10 free throws in the final 6 minutes after a disastrous start at the line, providing a rousing finish befitting the long-running rivalry.
Parker and Quinn Cook both scored 17 points for Duke.
After being hounded throughout the first half by Duke defenders Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon, Paige — who has made a habit out of big second-half performances this season — finally scored about 3½ minutes into the second half.
But he got stronger down the stretch.
McDonald hit the go-ahead jumper to make it 62-60 with 3:54 left, capping his own strong performance after recent struggles. Paige followed with a stepback jumper over Rodney Hood with 2:11 left, then answered two free throws from Parker by driving by Hood for a scooping layup through the heart of Duke's defense to keep it a two-possession game.
After Sulaimon missed a 3 on the ensuing possession, freshman Nate Britt followed with two free throws that pushed the lead to 68-62 with 46.2 seconds left and soon had the rowdy home crowd inching closer to the court to celebrate at the horn.
The postponement created a four-games-in-eight-days stretch for both teams, though it's particularly challenging for Duke with No. 1 Syracuse visiting Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday night in a rematch of the overtime classic won by the Orange earlier this month.
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap