DURHAM, N.C. (AP) -Duke got off to a bad offensive start. Then came an even worse finish. And it ended up costing the sixth-ranked Blue Devils a conference title Saturday night.
After a miserable first-half shooting performance, Duke had its spread-the-floor offense moving well enough to erase North Carolina's big halftime lead. But the Blue Devils went cold at the worst time, going scoreless in the last 5 1/2 minutes and watching the top-ranked Tar Heels celebrate their third straight win at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
After going ahead on a stickback by Jon Scheyer with about 5 1/2 minutes left, Duke missed its last 11 shots while the Tar Heels scored the game's final 10 points in a 76-68 win that gave North Carolina the ACC regular-season title. It was a surprising power outage for a team that always seems to play its best when the outcome is in doubt, particularly at its raucous home arena.
``The second half, we really played like the team that we've been playing like all year,'' Duke senior DeMarcus Nelson said. ``But the first half, it was just the complete opposite. We didn't have the poise. We didn't have the chemistry on offense and defensively we gave up a lot of buckets in transition and second-chance shots.
``We really played with a lot of emotion and fought back and got back into the game. But once we got there, I think we were just emotionally drained at that point and we hit a wall.''
The Blue Devils (26-4, 13-3) never looked completely in rhythm, a stark contrast to their efficiently running offense that helped them take an 89-78 win in Chapel Hill on Feb. 6. In that game, Duke shot 46 percent, including 13-for-29 from behind the 3-point arc, to negate the Tar Heels' size advantage inside.
But this time - playing on ``Senior Night'' with a rowdy home crowd that included Super Bowl MVPs Peyton and Eli Manning - Duke shot a season-low 33 percent while going 10-for-29 from 3-point range. Duke managed to play like it had all year only once: a 14-minute stretch after the break that saw them erase North Carolina's 42-31 halftime lead and give them the 68-66 lead on Scheyer's stickback with 5:42 left.
Sandwiched around that span was a 5-for-23 shooting start and an 0-for-11 finish, including 0-for-4 from 3-point range as the Tar Heels pushed ahead for good. Duke came in ranked second in the ACC for 3-point shooting (39 percent) and scoring (85 ppg).
Nelson, a senior averaging a team-high 15.5 points, never got going and finished with six points on 3-for-12 shooting. Greg Paulus finished with 15 points and four 3-pointers, but had only one 3 after the break and missed four shots in the decisive final minutes.
``We had a bunch of good looks,'' said Scheyer, who finished with 14 points but also went 0-for-4 after his final basket. ``We had had momentum going into those 6 minutes. The bottom line is we had some opportunities to hit shots and we didn't make them. They had opportunities and they made them.''
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