Ryan, No. 7 North Carolina turn back No. 9 Duke 84-79 to claim outright ACC regular-season crown

Duke head coach Jon Scheyer reacts after a foul during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against North Carolina in Durham, N.C., Saturday, March. 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

Duke head coach Jon Scheyer reacts after a foul during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against North Carolina in Durham, N.C., Saturday, March. 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina didn’t waste its opportunity to celebrate the program’s first outright Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title in seven years on the homecourt of fierce rival Duke.

The seventh-ranked Tar Heels gathered by the midcourt sideline near the “Cameron Crazies” and waved goodbye in a taunting farewell, only to be answered by several people throwing water and empty plastic bottles at them in frustration.

No matter, figured the Tar Heels. Not after Saturday night’s 84-79 win that secured the top seed in the ACC Tournament and a season sweep of the ninth-ranked Blue Devils that saw UNC trail for just 16 seconds between the two games.

“I definitely think it was uncalled for, but I mean, it’s a rivalry game so I kind of expected it,” UNC guard RJ Davis said with a smile. “We’re still going to enjoy it at the end of the day.”

Cormac Ryan scored a career-high 31 points, shooting 8 of 12 from the field and 6 of 8 on 3-pointers to help the Tar Heels (25-6, 17-3 ACC) turn away push after push from Duke — and Ryan made sure to let the fans hear it with some fired-up reactions.

He closed out the game with two clinching free throws with 4.7 seconds left.

“We knew what it meant. We knew what was at stake,” Ryan said. “And to walk out of this building is always nice.”

Harrison Ingram added 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Tar Heels, who shot 50% for the game. UNC ran out to a 15-point lead with a dominant start, then stayed in control all night.

UNC big man Armando Bacot, who had nine points and eight rebounds, said the key was following the instructions of assistant coach Jeff Lebo during a halftime message with the Tar Heels up 40-31.

“He told us there was going to be a point in the game when they came back, but we just had to stay poised and not do too much out of the regular,” Bacot said.

To that point, Duke (24-7, 15-5) got within a single point on Jeremy Roach’s 3-pointer at the 16:59 mark. But the Blue Devils never completely erased the deficit and never led, leading to second-year coach Jon Scheyer apologizing to the front row of Crazies afterward.

“I’m sorry,” he told them. “We’re going to keep going, we’re going to get this right.”

Kyle Filipowski had 23 points to lead the Blue Devils, who had retired Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski making a rare courtside appearance for the game.

“We didn’t play our best basketball overall,” Filipowski said, adding: “We’re still one of the best teams in the country. Our season’s not defined by UNC.”

BIG PICTURE

UNC: The Tar Heels had clinched a share of the ACC regular-season crown with Tuesday’s win against Notre Dame in their home finale, marking their first share of a title since the 2018-19 season.

Duke: The Blue Devils had been steadily building momentum in recent weeks, winning eight of nine since the loss at UNC and winning their last three games by 15-plus points. But they struggled for stops and in keeping the Tar Heels off the glass (outrebounded 39-28). It didn’t help that Roach had a rough night (13 points on 3-for-12 shooting) on the perimeter alongside Jared McCain (19 points) and Tyrese Proctor (14).

TANGLED UP

There was also a familiar bit of rivalry testiness aside from the drink-throwing fans. That came after Filipowski and Ingram ended up on the floor after Duke’s star big man contested Ingram’s shot at the six-minute mark of the first half.

As Ingram got up to run back on defense, Filipowski kicked up his right leg and tripped Ingram back down to the hardwood near midcourt.

UNC coach Hubert Davis immediately started frantically motioning for officials to look at the replay, but there was no whistle, stoppage or review as the rivalry battle continued.

Afterward, Filipowski denied it was intentional, though Ingram — who said he hadn’t seen a replay — said he felt it was a trip at the time.

UP NEXT

Both teams await their matchups for next week’s ACC Tournament in the nation’s capital.

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball

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