Durham, NC (SportsNetwork.com) - The superlatives, the pomp and circumstance, the seemingly endless hyperbole surrounding the Duke-North Carolina rivalry...
It was all fitting in another instant classic between the Tobacco Road foils on Wednesday.
Tyus Jones rallied Duke from nine down late in regulation and the fourth- ranked Blue Devils survived in overtime, 92-90, in a tense, back-and-forth showdown that once again lived up to its billing.
The 15th-ranked Tar Heels looked well on their way to pulling off a huge win at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The frontcourt trio of Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and J.P. Tokoto combined for 51 points and 27 rebounds and kept Player of the Year candidate Jahlil Okafor in check.
Their efforts had Duke (23-3, 10-3 ACC) on its heels before Jones scored nine of his 22 points in the final 1:25 of regulation. Okafor made the go-ahead basket in OT, and the Blue Devils escaped with their sixth straight win.
"We knew how important this game was, how big this rivalry is," Jones said. "I'm speechless. ... It was an unbelievable atmosphere."
Okafor finished with a quiet 12 points and 13 rebounds, Quinn Cook made six 3- pointers in his 22-point effort, and Justise Winslow and Amile Jefferson chipped in with 16 and 13 points, respectively, for the victors.
The Heels (18-8, 8-5 ACC) have lost four of their last five, and their court general, Marcus Paige, shot just 2-of-11 from the floor and finished with five points and three assists.
"If you just care about college basketball, you have to enjoy (this type of game), but I happen to love North Carolina, so it's not quite as agreeable to me," UNC head coach Roy Williams lamented.
Johnson totaled 18 points and 12 boards before fouling out early in OT, Meeks scored 18 points as well and Tokoto added 15 for UNC, which dominated inside with 62 points in the paint.
The low post advantage was evident during UNC's 9-0 run inside the final 10 minutes of regulation. Isaiah Hicks's bucket capped a string of four layups in a five-possession span that gave the Heels a 70-62 cushion.
They held a seemingly comfortable 79-70 lead with under three minutes showing when Duke, namely Jones, forced overtime with a furious comeback.
Jones went on a personal 9-2 run to close it out, thanks in part to UNC twice missing the front end of a 1-and-1. Jones' three-point play pulled the hosts within 81-79, and after Johnson missed a free throw with 38 seconds left, Jones converted a left-handed layup in traffic.
After Paige missed a mid-range jumper at the buzzer, Johnson fouled out 31 seconds into the extra session. With Johnson on the bench, Okafor scored twice on the block, the second time giving the Blue Devils a 90-89 edge with under two minutes showing.
Nate Britt missed a shot at the rim on the ensuing possession, and it was a free throw contest after Matt Jones pulled down a critical offensive rebound for Duke. Cook went 1-of-2 from the foul line twice down the stretch, giving UNC a chance to tie with time winding down.
Duke opted to foul up by three with 3.2 seconds left. Britt made the first and intentionally missed the second, and the horn sounded as the rebound was batted around near the baseline.
The first half was played at a breakneck, fluid pace, with Duke leading the entire way while the Heels impressively fended off an early barrage and stayed in striking distance.
The Blue Devils jumped out to 20-8 lead just 5 1/2 minutes in, only for UNC to pull within four, 40-36, just as Okafor was being helped to the locker room after rolling his left ankle.
Despite being without its top scorer, Duke scored nine straight points in the blink of an eye, as back-to-back 3-pointers from Jones and Cook stretched the margin to a game-high 13 points.
Okafor returned just before the break, and that's when the Heels began making their run. Tokoto's emphatic putback slam just before the halftime buzzer pulled the Heels within 49-42, and the high-flying junior highlighted a 13-0 run early in the second half with a reverse slam that give UNC its first lead.
Both teams participated in a moment of silence for legendary Tar Heels head coach Dean Smith before the game. Smith passed away at the age of 83 on Feb. 7 ... Duke is 6-1 against ranked opponents ... UNC's bench outscored Duke's 32-7 ... Duke has won nine of the last 12 meetings.