No. 8 Duke outlasts rival North Carolina 64-54

Jon Scheyer scored 24 points and eighth-ranked Duke pulled away in the final minutes to beat North Carolina 64-54 on Wednesday night.

Kyle Singler added 19 points for the Blue Devils (20-4, 8-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who shot poorly all night and couldn’t make much of anything in close. But boasting a bigger and tougher front line than in years past, Duke dominated the boards and got plenty of extra looks to make up for all those misses.

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Duke hit nine 3-pointers, but shot 32 percent overall and went 13 for 51 (25 percent) from inside the arc.

The loss only added to the defending national champions’ misery in a season that is slipping away. North Carolina (13-11, 2-7) has lost eight of 10 since the start of 2010, including four in a row overall to fall near the bottom of the league standings.

Will Graves scored 13 points to lead the Tar Heels .

The rivalry game might have lost some luster this time around due to North Carolina’s struggles and Duke looking like a good, but hardly great, team. Both schools had been ranked in the top 10 in the past four meetings, but North Carolina – which started the season at No. 6 and as co-ACC favorite with Duke – fell out of the poll two weeks ago.

Still, this one ended up fitting right in with college basketball’s fiercest rivalry when it came to intensity and fight. Neither team led by more than six points in the first 30 minutes and they were tied with about 8 minutes left before the Blue Devils finally took control.

Duke finished with a 51-42 rebounding advantage and converted 23 offensive rebounds into 21 second-chance points, baskets that repeatedly drained the momentum building when the Tar Heels appeared on the verge of a defensive stop.

It was a satisfying win for the Blue Devils , who had lost six of seven meetings during a stretch that seemed to signal a shift in power between the programs back to the light blue in Chapel Hill. North Carolina has won two national championships, including last year in Detroit, since Duke last went to a Final Four in 2004.

In addition, Duke’s win came on a night when the Tar Heels retired the No. 50 jersey of four-year star Tyler Hansbrough , who graduated as the storied program’s leading scorer and rebounder, as well as the top scorer in ACC history.

The Tar Heels played with plenty of defensive intensity and focus much of the night, both of which were problem areas in recent weeks. They even led 43-39 on a transition layup from Dexter Strickland with about 12 minutes left to send the packed house in the Smith Center into a furious roar.

But the Blue Devils – despite their road struggles this season – never looked rattled.

In an example of how the Blue Devils persevered all night, Duke went ahead for good when freshman Mason Plumlee grabbed an offensive rebound and threw down a reverse dunk to make it 47-45. Scheyer followed with a tough basket in the lane over Marcus Ginyard , then came through with a contested 3 against Ginyard that took momentum right back after Graves’ 3 on the previous possession.

When Nolan Smith scored a transition layup to push the lead to 54-48 with 4:34 left, the Blue Devils finally had the working margin they needed. And they showed some veteran composure to answer every desperate push by the Tar Heels to close the gap before Scheyer knocked down a 3 over Ginyard to beat the shot clock and give Duke a 59-50 lead with 2 1/2 minutes left.

It was a basket that effectively closed the door on the Tar Heels , who managed just 11 points in the last 8 1/2 minutes when the game hung in the balance.

Duke played much of the night without forward Lance Thomas , who appeared to injure his right knee in a collision with Larry Drew II with about 17 minutes left.

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