For all the exploits of No. 4 Duke’s fabulous freshmen, North Carolina freshman Coby White made sure the Blue Devils finished the regular season without a win over their rival.
White scored 21 points, including 14 in the second half to help No. 3 North Carolina build a 15-point lead and hold on to beat Duke 79-70 in the ACC game at the Smith Center Saturday night.
White, a 6-5 guard from Goldsboro, hit four 3-pointers and added three assists and three blocks for UNC, which swept the regular-season series from Duke for the first time since 2009. Kenny Williams scored 18 for the Tar Heels, while Cam Johnson added 14.
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The Tar Heels (26-5, 16-2 ACC) will be the No. 2 seed for the ACC tournament, which begins on Tuesday at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center. The Blue Devils (26-5, 14-4) will be the No. 3 seed. Both teams will begin tournament play in the quarterfinals on Thursday night.
Virginia (28-2, 16-2 ACC) wrapped up the regular-season championship and the tournament’s No. 1 seed with its 73-68 win over Louisville Saturday prior to the start of the Duke-UNC game. The Cavaliers are the top seed based on their 69-61 win over UNC on Feb. 11.
The Blue Devils played their fifth consecutive game without national player of the year candidate Zion Williamson, a 6-7 freshman forward who is sidelined with a sprained right knee. Duke lost starting center Marques Bolden, a 6-11 junior, to a left knee injury less than three minutes into the game. He was helped to the locker room and did not return to the game.
RJ Barrett scored 26 points for Duke while fellow freshman Cam Reddish had 23. The Blue Devils shot 23.1 percent in the second half to finish at 34.2 percent for the game.
After Duke led 40-38 at halftime, UNC built a 50-44 lead three minutes into the second half. Duke battled back to tie the score twice before the Tar Heels took control midway through the second half.
Tre Jones’ 3-pointer cut UNC’s lead to 61-58 with 10:05 to play before a 14-2 UNC run allowed the Tar Heels to pull away.
White had his fingerprints all over it.
He answered Jones’ 3-pointer with one of his own to restore UNC’s six-point lead. Reddish hit two free throws for Duke, but Garrison Brooks slammed home two points in transition and later split two free throws for UNC.
White hit a 3-pointer and, after a Reddish miss, zipped a transition pass to Brooks for a slam dunk and a 72-60 Tar Heels lead. When Williams drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key, the Tar Heels led 75-60 with 6:40 to play.
UNC went scoreless for nearly six minutes as Duke scored 10 points in a row. Barrett’s 3-pointer with 2:17 sliced UNC’s lead to 75-70.
But Johnson’s two free throws with 49.2 seconds left ended the Tar Heels’ drought. Garrison Brooks added two more with 33.4 left giving UNC a 79-70 lead.
Duke never led while losing 88-72 to UNC at Cameron Indoor Stadium last month in the game where Williamson suffered his knee injury. But the Blue Devils led by as many as five points on three occasions in the first half before taking a 40-38 halftime lead in the rematch.
Reddish scored 17 points for the Blue Devils, who shot 47 percent over the first 20 minutes. Duke made just 3 of 12 3-pointers, with Reddish sinking them all.
The Tar Heels shot just 43.2 percent and were outrebounded 22-18 in the first half.
Maye hit just 1 of 6 shots, scoring two points, before going to the bench with two fouls. Johnson scored five points while limited to nine first-half minutes due to his two fouls.
Williams gave the Tar Heels a needed boost with 12 points and Little scored nine in a reserve role.