Joel Berry’s red-hot first half and timely shots down the stretch allowed No. 5 North Carolina to celebrate its ACC regular-season championship in style.
Berry scored a game-high 28 points as the No. 5 Tar Heels pulled away in the final four minutes to beat rival Duke 90-83 on Saturday night at the Smith Center.
Berry scored 19 points while making five 3-pointers in the first half. He was held scoreless over the first 11 minutes of the second half. But, after No. 17 Duke cut UNC’s lead to 79-78 with 4:07 to play, Berry scored UNC’s next seven points as the Tar Heels finally shook the Blue Devils.
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“He played amazing,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “There are very few guys on the court who are capable of amazing.”
Duke’s loss means the Blue Devils (23-8, 11-7 ACC) are the No. 5 seed for the ACC tournament, which starts Tuesday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The Blue Devils will play at 2 p.m on Wednesday against the winner of Tuesday’s noon first-round game between No. 12 seed Clemson and No. 13 seed N.C. State.
UNC (26-6, 14-4) had the tournament’s No. 1 seed and the outright league regular-season championship clinched for the second season in a row before Saturday night’s game started.
Having won last year’s ACC tournament, the Tar Heels will open this year’s tournament Thursday at noon against the winner of Wednesday’s second-round game between No 8 seed Syracuse and No. 9 Miami.
“Winning the league is something you will always be proud of,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “Now we have to back it up in the postseason like we did last year.”
In addition to Berry’s scoring, Isaiah Hicks added 21 points and nine rebounds. His production was a major boost for the Tar Heels after he missed Duke’s 86-78 win over UNC on Feb. 9 in Durham due to a hamstring injury.
“I didn’t want to use that as an excuse over there,” Williams said, “but we are better when Is is playing and playing well. He was big for us tonight.”
Justin Jackson added 15 points for UNC, including a 3-pointer with 5:56 to play that put UNC up for good.
Luke Kennard led Duke with 28 points, followed by Frank Jackson (15 points), Grayson Allen (14), Jayson Tatum (13) and Amile Jefferson (12).
“My guys played well,” Krzyzewski said. “I’m sure Roy will say his guys played well. You saw a game where a lot of guys played well. That’s it.”
After UNC led 48-46 at halftime, the teams continued to exchanged the lead in a tight game over the first 10 minutes of the second half as neither team led by more than three points.
Duke’s offense slowed as the Blue Devils missed four of five shots during a three-minute stretch. But Frank Jackson’s free throws with 8:49 left tied the score at 67.
With the score tied at 71, a UNC surge finally allowed for some separation between the two rivals.
After missing his first six 3-pointers, Justin Jackson finally nailed one from the top of the key with 5:56 to play. Jayson Tatum missed a running shot in the lane and UNC hustled the ball back up court.
Hicks took a pass from Justin Jackson under the basket and scored as Duke’s Frank Jackson fouled him. Hicks’ free throw with 5;22 left gave UNC its largest lead at that point – 77-71.
UNC led 79-73 when Duke made its last push.
Kennard drove the lane, drew a foul and hit two free throws. Berry missed a baseline jumper, and Allen drilled a 3-pointer for Duke leaving the Tar Heels with a 79-78 lead with 4:07 left.
When Berry scored inside with 3:40 to play, UNC led 81-78 and had made five of its last six shots.
Tatum sank a free throw for Duke with 3:28 to play and UNC led by two points.
Berry’s jump shot at 2:16 pushed UNC’s lead to 83-79.
Allen missed a chance to draw Duke closer with 2:04 left when he missed two free throws. Berry expanded UNC’s lead to a comfortable 85-79 when he banked in a running shot with 1:40 left.
When Duke’s Frank Jackson missed a 3-pointer with 1:20 to play, the Blue Devils had run out of chances.
Berry’s shooting allowed UNC to take a 48-46 halftime lead. He made five 3-pointers in the first half as he scored 19 points.
The half was played at a high level as the lead changed hands 18 times with five ties.
Duke shot 54.2 percent from the field while making 4 of 8 3-pointers.
With Berry making 6 of 8 shots from the field, UNC shot 50 percent in the first half. Berry made all of UNC’s first half 3-pointers while his teammates missed their eight attempts.
Duke’s largest lead in the first 20 minutes was six points, while UNC led by as many as five.
Duke led 40-34 with 4:58 to play in the half after Allen sank a 3-pointer and was fouled by Jackson. His free throw gave Duke its largest lead of the half.
But UNC battled back behind Berry, and the Tar Heels were aided by yet another controversial play involving Allen.
With 3:09 left in the half, Allen attempted to drive past UNC’s Brandon Robinson. Robinson was called for a foul while, at the same time, Allen elbowed Robinson in the face with his left elbow.
The officials used video replay to review the play. Allen was awarded two free throws, which he made to give Duke a 42-39 lead.
Allen was also called for a technical foul, and Berry made two free throws for UNC. The Tar Heels also had possession, and Robinson scored to put them up 43-42.
Duke’s final lead of the half came when Allen sank two more free throws with 2:38 left. But Berry answered with his fifth 3-pointer of the half for a 46-44 UNC lead.