No. 5 Duke tops rival No. 15 UNC behind Alexis Jones

DURHAM, N.C. -- Duke freshman Alexis Jones kept attacking the rim, drawing contact and hitting big free throws.

She refused to come out and say North Carolina couldn't stop her.

The stat sheet made that claim for her.

Jones scored a season-high 22 points to help the fifth-ranked Blue Devils beat No. 15 North Carolina 65-58 on Sunday for their Atlantic Coast Conference-record 17th regular-season league victory.

The freshman was 11 for 12 from the free-throw line -- the entire Tar Heels team only made nine -- and established a personal-best scoring performance for the second time in eight days. This one was seven better than her previous high of 15 set last Sunday in a win at Maryland.

Both of those big games have come in the four games after do-it-all point guard Chelsea Gray was lost with a season-ending knee injury. Duke improved to 3-1 without her.

"We're still a work in progress. ... When Chelsea goes out, it's a brand new season," coach Joanne P. McCallie said. "I just think Lex is really getting better every single game, and she's getting a feel by being on the floor and directing things."

Elizabeth Williams added 13 points for the Blue Devils (27-2, 17-1), who beat their archrivals for the sixth straight time. They did it by overcoming a season-high 29 turnovers and forcing the hot-and-cold Tar Heels (26-5, 14-4) to miss 19 consecutive shots during a span of roughly 10 minutes in the second half.

"It wasn't a pretty game," McCallie said. "Any time you have that many turnovers, you want to kind of wipe that out on the stat sheet. But it's just not about pretty at this time of year."

Tierra Ruffin-Pratt led North Carolina with 16 points on 5-of-23 shooting.

"We got good looks and open shots," Ruffin-Pratt said. "We just couldn't hit them."

And yet the Tar Heels got as close as six points in the final minutes, clawing to 50-44 when freshman Xylina McDaniel was fouled while making a layup with 3:03 left.

After she missed the free throw, Duke pulled away.

Jones raced downcourt to convert a three-point play and Richa Jackson followed that with a stickback with 2 1/2 minutes left to push the Blue Devils' lead to 55-44.

North Carolina didn't get closer than seven the rest of the way.

"I look at the stat sheet and I see all these categories where we beat them or are ahead of them," coach Sylvia Hatchell said, pointing out that her Tar Heels held Duke to 2-for-11 shooting from 3-point range and had more rebounds and steals.

"All these things I challenged the players on, we accomplished, except if we could make some foul shots, that would help there," she added.

Haley Peters added 10 points for Duke, which has already secured the No. 1 seed for the ACC tournament that begins later this week in Greensboro. The Blue Devils were the first to win 17 regular-season conference games because this is the first year of the ACC's 18-game league schedule.

Krista Gross finished with 10 points for North Carolina, which shot under 30 percent, had 22 turnovers and finished tied for second place with Maryland. The Terrapins won a coin flip Sunday night for the No. 2 seed, dropping the Tar Heels to the third seed, after all of the league's other tiebreakers couldn't separate them.

"We're right where we want to be," Hatchell said.

A win, of course, would have given that No. 2 seed directly to the Tar Heels, and it looked as though it might be headed that way when they went up 32-26 just over a minute into the second half on Brittany Rountree's 3-pointer.

But they went ice cold after that, missing everything but two free throws by Gross, while allowing Duke to take the lead and push it back into double figures.

"We were very aggressive on trying to keep them in front and when they threw up shots, we were just turning around and trying to box out as best as we can, and get it and go," Jones said.

She scored six points during the 22-2 run that put the Blue Devils back on top, with her highlight-reel finger-roll on a fast break coming one possession before Tricia Liston's 3 from the corner gave Duke a 48-34 lead.

Walteia Rolle ended the Tar Heels' cold spell with a stickback with just over 9 minutes left.

The Blue Devils -- who won their 18th straight game at Cameron Indoor Stadium and haven't been beaten by an ACC team here in more than five years -- had no trouble claiming the previous meeting, using a 29-3 run and leading by 33 in an 84-63 romp last month in Chapel Hill.

But, as Hatchell previously pointed out, her team actually won the second half of that game -- outscoring Duke 44-34.

They won the first half of the rematch, too.

The Tar Heels wiped out a 12-point deficit and took a six-point lead with a 22-4 run that started late in the first half and ended early in the second.

Ruffin-Pratt's jumper with 15 seconds left in the half put North Carolina up 27-26 -- just the third time Duke trailed at the break.

They hit their first two shots of the second half to take that six-point lead -- only to go remarkably cold after that.