CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Duke's players didn't let anything -- not the sight of blood gushing from the mouth of yet another injured starter nor the second-half comeback from their fiercest rival -- keep them from claiming sole possession of the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season championship.
Tricia Liston scored 15 points to help the seventh-ranked Blue Devils beat rival North Carolina 69-63 on Sunday, clinching the ACC crown outright while giving fifth-year coach Joanne P. McCallie her first road victory in the rivalry.
Freshman Elizabeth Williams added 13 points and nine rebounds for the Blue Devils (24-4, 15-1 ACC), who had already clinched the top seed in this week's league tournament in Greensboro.
It didn't come easily. Facing a team they had beaten by 40 points earlier this month, the Blue Devils blew most of a 17-point lead in the final 13 minutes before holding off the Tar Heels (19-10, 9-7) in the final minute.
"We had to stay poised," Williams said. "It was really important for us to continue to play hard and fight through all the adversity, and at the same time, stay poised and stay patient."
The Tar Heels rallied to within four in the final 90 seconds, but couldn't claw any closer.
"I just love this team, and I love how we play," McCallie said. "It doesn't matter where we are or what we do. It's a matter of how we finish and extending our season into March and April."
She had no shortage of examples of Duke's poise, starting with Haley Peters.
The 6-foot-3 sophomore crashed to the court after taking an inadvertent elbow to the mouth from Chay Shegog as the UNC senior tried to pass after a rebound late in the first half. A bloodied Peters, a starter averaging about 11 points, went to the locker room and didn't return to the bench until midway through the second half after getting 15 to 20 stitches on the inside and outside of her upper lip.
Peters said she wasn't sure if she'd be allowed to return, but told trainer Summer McKeehan that she didn't want to be held out.
"I said, 'No, that's not why I'm here,' " Peters said.
If Peters hadn't returned, McCallie would've had just two scholarship players on the bench after losing starter Richa Jackson to a season-ending knee injury earlier this month.
Instead, Peters returned at the 10:49 mark and played the rest of the way, finishing with nine points and seven rebounds.
"She's a warrior," point guard Chelsea Gray said. "She's the backbone of this team."
Peters came up with a key play late. After Krista Gross' stickback pulled UNC to within 67-63 with 1:17 left, Peters tipped out a missed free throw that ended up with Gray to keep the possession alive. Gray hit a free throw to push the lead to five with 20.4 seconds left.
Then Allison Vernerey blocked a 3-point attempt from Candace Wood in what amounted to North Carolina's final gasp. Liston came up with the rebound and added another free throw with 9.5 seconds left to push the Blue Devils' lead to six and ultimately seal it.
Gray finished with 12 points and seven assists to set Duke's single-season assists record.
Shegog scored 22 points for UNC in her final regular season home game, while freshman Brittany Rountree scored 14 of her 17 points after halftime and hit four second-half 3-pointers help the Tar Heels cut into Duke's big lead.
North Carolina fell to the No. 5 seed in the ACC tournament and will play No. 12 seed Clemson in Thursday's first round.
"If we had played the first half like we did the second half, I think we'd be a lot happier right now," North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell said. "I thought in the second half, we competed a lot harder, we played transition defense, we played like we were supposed to play."
The Blue Devils' last win here came in a 1-vs-2 game five years ago under Gail Goestenkors, who left after that season to take over at Texas.
Duke lost by 31 points in McCallie's first trip to Chapel Hill, then by 15 in her second and by 10 in her third. Last year, the Tar Heels won when Waltiea Rolle blocked Gray's layup just before the horn to preserve a 62-60 victory.
McCallie looked on her way to her first win, and by an easy margin, when Williams scored on a stickback to make it 57-40 with 13:21 left. Instead, her team had to hold on to the end before McCallie could celebrate in Chapel Hill.
"Yeah, it's about time," McCallie said. "I can thank the team for that."
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