DURHAM, N.C. — Danny Green and North Carolina made themselves comfortable when it counted on Duke's famously hostile home court. Because they did, the top-ranked Tar Heels claimed another league title — and maybe the inside track to a close-to-home postseason path.
Green had 18 points to make up for a shaky outing last time against the Blue Devils, and North Carolina scored the final 10 points of its 76-68 victory over No. 6 Duke on Saturday night to claim the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season championship.
Tyler Hansbrough finished with 16 points and 15 rebounds while surpassing the 2,000-point mark for his career in his third straight victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and Wayne Ellington also scored 16 for the Tar Heels (29-2, 14-2).
North Carolina blew an early double-figure lead and briefly trailed before closing strong, holding the Blue Devils scoreless for the final 5 1/2 minutes to claim its eighth straight victory and the top seed in the ACC tournament in Charlotte — and quite possibly took a big step toward the No. 1 seed in the Charlotte-based East Regional.
"Our perimeter guys took it personally tonight," said Green, who was 1-for-10 in the last Duke game. "We wanted to come out and knock down shots, play smarter, play better and take the crowd out of the game. We kept our poise when they came back."
Greg Paulus scored 12 of his 15 points in the first half for the Blue Devils (26-4, 13-3), who rallied from a 14-point first-half hole but missed their final 11 shots in slipping to the No. 2 seed in the league tournament.
Duke had 15 shots blocked — seven by Green and five by Deon Thompson — and was held to a season-worst 32.9 shooting in having its four-game winning streak snapped and losing at home for the first time since last February's North Carolina game.
"We've been drilling (defense) since the first day," coach Roy Williams said. "It's a challenge to try to be a really good defensive team. Sometimes, you get lucky and they miss shots as well. The statistics show that we've gotten better defensively. It's something that you have to be good at if you want to reach those big-time dreams that we have."
Jon Scheyer added 14 points, and his stickback with just over 5 1/2 minutes remaining gave Duke its only lead of the second half at 68-66 — but that was the Blue Devils' last field goal of the game. Duke had good looks on three straight trips downcourt after that but came up empty on each, and that allowed North Carolina to take control down the stretch.
"I still thought we were doing really good things. We just couldn't get that thing in the hole there," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "We were still making winning plays — plays that could win. Obviously, they didn't turn out to be winning plays."
Ellington drove the left side for a layup to tie it at 68 with 3 minutes left and start North Carolina's game-closing 10-0 run, and on the next possession Hansbrough stuck back Green's miss to put the Tar Heels ahead to stay. They went on to finish 13-0 in road games and 8-0 in ACC games away from the Smith Center — both school records.
"We've been there before — been there plenty of times," Ellington said. "Stay patient and do what we have to do. We stopped them and then executed our offense and pulled out the win."
Ty Lawson, who missed the previous meeting with a sprained left ankle, finished with 10 points for the Tar Heels, who claimed their first victory in a winner-take-all regular-season finale with Duke since 1985. They captured their 26th regular-season conference championship and third in four years under Williams, and have won three straight at Cameron for the first time since 1994-96.
"I'm undefeated here, and I want to come here and win and keep the streak going," said Lawson, a sophomore.
It was sweet revenge for Ellington and Green, who were roundly blamed for the Tar Heels' 89-78 loss last month in Chapel Hill after they were a combined 4-for-24 shooting in that No. 2-vs-No. 3 matchup. With the stakes even higher this time, they were significantly sharper, making a combined 14-of-28 attempts.
They were a big reason for North Carolina's first half that was perhaps one of the most dominating by an opponent in recent seasons at the famously rowdy arena. The Tar Heels raced out to an early 29-15 lead on the strength of Green's hot hand — he was 6-for-8 at the break.
"They had a tough game the first time we played them," Hansbrough said. "He hit some big shots and that gave him confidence."
Kyle Singler and Gerald Henderson each scored 10 for Duke, which got back in the game by opening the second half on a 17-9 run.
"I think we definitely used too much emotion, just raw emotion, throughout the course of the game," said Duke's DeMarcus Nelson, held to six points on 3-of-12 shooting on Senior Night. "When you play against a team like that, you've got to have some poise. And we stressed coming into this game and approaching it like any other game, and I ... I think everybody was ready to play. But I think we might have played on raw emotion, and it drained us."