CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) -- Duke has spent the entire season erasing memories of last year's un-Duke-like struggles. Now, after an impressive win against their biggest rivals, the Blue Devils are starting to look like a team that fits right in with their storied tradition.
Greg Paulus scored 18 points and was one of six players in double figures in the second-ranked Blue Devils' 89-78 win over the third-ranked Tar Heels on Wednesday night, ending a three-game losing streak in the heated rivalry.
Jon Scheyer added 17 points for Duke (20-1, 8-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), which repeatedly knocked down 3-point shots to control the game almost the entire way. Duke led by as many as 11 points in the first half and never trailed after the break, beating the short-handed Tar Heels for the first time since the 2005-06 season.
Picked to finish second in the ACC, the Blue Devils figured to be too small up front to contend with the favored Tar Heels this year. Yet behind a spread-the-floor attack that creates matchup problems all over the court, Duke is alone atop the league and looking like a good bet to win the regular-season race.
"They're pretty special right now," Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We know who we are. We're a very unconventional team. We're not a strong physical team, but we are strong team emotionally, a real together group.
"You have to hope you don't get killed by a team for a stretch by their strength. You have to find a way and because we have versatile players we've been able to do that so far."
Duke shot 46 percent and went 13-for-29 from 3-point range, with Paulus going 6-for-8 from behind the arc. That was just too much on the perimeter for the Tar Heels (21-2, 6-2), who played without injured point guard Ty Lawson and seemed like they had to fight the entire way just to stay within reach.
"We definitely drove the ball and got a couple good penetrate and kicks," Paulus said. "I'm not sure what we shot, but it seemed like whenever we needed a 3, we had guys who took big shots and knocked them down."
Tyler Hansbrough had 28 points and 18 rebounds in what became virtually a one-man effort, but the Tar Heels looked a step off all night with Lawson watching from the bench after spraining his left ankle in the weekend win at Florida State.
North Carolina twice closed to within a point early in the second half, but Duke never wavered or looked flustered in a hostile environment.
"We're looking to take over this league," said Gerald Henderson, who had 12 points for the Blue Devils. "We hope that we can continue to play like this and win like this. ... We just want to continue to add in the left side of the column."
It was a surprisingly one-sided outcome in a rivalry that drew plenty of notable onlookers, including former Tar Heels basketball players Raymond Felton and Sean May, former Tar Heels football star Julius Peppers and even former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards.
As if the rivalry wasn't intense enough already, it was the first meeting since the flagrant foul from Henderson that left Hansbrough with a bloodied and broken nose in an ugly scene here last March. The rowdy home crowd obviously hadn't forgotten, booing lustily every time Henderson touched the ball and even holding up "Wanted" signs featuring his picture when he went to the foul line late in the first half.
Hansbrough has repeatedly claimed the incident is behind him, but he played like he hadn't forgotten, either. He scored eight points in the first 5 minutes and ended up surpassing Michael Jordan for 11th on the school's career scoring list.
The problem for the Tar Heels was that no one followed his lead.
Wayne Ellington, who came in second on the team at 16.2 points per game, had a miserable shooting night, finishing with eight points on 3-for-14 shooting, including 0-for-6 from behind the 3-point arc. That included a huge miss late on a 3 that looked good until it rattled around the cylinder and rolled out with the Tar Heels trailing 78-70 with 2:43 left.
Meanwhile, sixth man Danny Green finished with three points on 1-for-10 shooting, far below his season average of 12.1 points.
North Carolina shot just 41 percent for the game, including 3-for-17 from behind the arc.
"It was just one of those nights," Ellington said. "We couldn't get the ball to fall."
At least some of that could be attributed to the absence of Lawson, the speedy sophomore who powers the Tar Heels' fast-paced offense and gets them plenty of easy baskets. Quentin Thomas performed capably in Lawson's absence, finishing with 10 points and seven assists with six turnovers.
The Blue Devils, meanwhile, did exactly what they needed to do to offset the Tar Heels' advantage up front. They repeatedly got open looks off penetration and kickouts. Paulus was the biggest beneficiary, hitting his first five 3-pointers. But, unlike Hansbrough, he had plenty of help.
Freshman Kyle Singler had 14 points and 10 rebounds, and DeMarcus Nelson had 13 points. Duke also got a boost inside from Lance Thomas, who had 10 points and five rebounds while battling North Carolina's bigger front line all night.
"They got any shot they wanted," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. "I don't know very many times tonight that our defense dictated what shot they got. They had better spacing, more patience."
- Jamie Luckie
- Tony Greene
- Les Jones