Tar Heels halt six-game skid vs. Duke -- barely


CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) -- North Carolina dived head first back
into its rivalry with Duke (No. 9 ESPN/USA Today, No. 10 AP) on Sunday.

The Tar Heels salvaged their up-and-down season and three-year
slump against their arch rival by beating the Blue Devils 82-79 in a wild ending to the regular season.

"We've been taking punches to the face all year and we've come
off the mat each time,'' said North Carolina coach Matt Doherty,
who was involved in a shouting-shoving incident during the game.
"We came off the mat today and played a great game against a great
opponent. What a gutsy effort. To me it was one of those classic
Carolina-Duke games.''

The Tar Heels went a program-worst 8-20 last year and lost to
the Blue Devils by 29 at home before rebounding this season with a
16-14 record with one of the nation's youngest teams.

"To double the win total from last year, I think that shows a
lot about this team,'' Doherty said. "And again, this schedule is
one of the toughest in the country.''

Rashad McCants scored 26 points and Raymond Felton added 18
points, eight rebounds and 10 assists as the Tar Heels snapped a
six-game losing skid to Duke, which saw its streak of 12-win ACC
seasons end at six straight.

"I just wanted to be more aggressive and make a mental
statement,'' said McCants, who scored his most points since getting
26 against Maryland on Jan. 22. "I went out and didn't think about
anything but just playing.''

A 30-footer by Dahntay Jones, who led Duke (21-6, 11-5 Atlantic
Coast Conference) with 22 points, that would have tied the game
came just after the buzzer sounded. The officials watched TV
replays to confirm the late shot as thousands of fans stormed the
floor at the Smith Center.

"I was getting ready to drop to my knees and cry,'' North
Carolina's Jawad Williams said. "But it was good feeling that it
didn't count.''

There were 21 lead changes before a layup by McCants and a long
3-pointer by Felton gave the Tar Heels (16-14, 6-10) a 68-64 lead
with 7:03 left.

The Blue Devils then went to a zone, seldom employed by Mike
Krzyzweski, to slow down North Carolina's offense and tied it 72-72
with 2:23 remaining. McCants then hit a 3-pointer and Jackie Manuel
added a driving layup for a five-point lead.

North Carolina sealed it from the free throw line, going 5-of-6
over the final 24 seconds. Felton and David Noel, a 38-percent foul
shooter, each made two while clinging to a two-point lead.

"This whole year we've been going through the same thing,''
Duke captain Chris Duhon said. "We just can't play 20 minutes of
basketball and expect to win. It has to be a full 40 minutes and
until we get that concept we're just going to be a good team, we're
not going to be an outstanding team.''

McCants was 12-for-16 from the field as North Carolina shot a
season-high 56 percent.

"After the game I told him, `Rashad, you're back to your old
self,''' Doherty said of his slumping leading scorer. "He was in
the flow and guys were looking for him and he took advantage.''

Meanwhile, Duke struggled with North Carolina's quickness and
poor outside shooting, going 5-for-23 from 3-point range.

"We haven't played as well in a game as we've practiced on a
day-to-day basis,'' Krzyzewski said. "It's not effort, it's
basically communication. I thought we would be a little better at
that by now. It's not there, though. A lot of it is personalities.
We don't have (Shane) Battier and (Mike) Dunleavy talking.''

The game grew ugly with 8:17 left and the score tied at 63.

Felton was bloodied when he took an elbow on a follow shot by
Jones. He was being helped to his feet by Doherty near the Duke
bench when Blue Devils assistant coach Chris Collins began to jaw
with Doherty.

Duke senior reserve guard Andre Buckner then came out of the
huddle and pushed Doherty with two hands to the chest. Doherty went
back at Buckner and both teams began pushing and shoving as the
officials tired to restore order.

"Things got a little heated there,'' Doherty said. "That
happens, that's part of it. But I thought as crazy as things got
both teams settled down and Coach Krzyzewski handled it with a lot
of class.''

Doherty and Jones exchanged words in the first meeting at
Cameron Indoor Stadium after Jones made a basket and passed the
North Carolina coach on the sideline.

The 214th matchup between the schools separated by 8 miles
produced 12 lead changes in the opening 12:11.

Duke's Sheldon Williams, who finished with 20 points, and
McCants were non factors in the first meeting in Cameron. However,
both players led their teams early on in this one.

Williams had 10 points for Duke, controlling the paint, while
McCants, who was 1-for-8 in the Feb. 5 game as he battled back
problems, was 7-for-9 for 14 points.

His hot shooting was indicative of the Tar Heels, who made 18 of
their first 26 shots and finished the half shooting 61 percent to
take a six-point halftime lead.