CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — North Carolina went from looking a step slow and struggling to keep Duke’s touted freshmen off the boards to roaring out of halftime with an aggressive edge on the way to a rousing win.
Maybe the 21st-ranked Tar Heels just needed their fiercest rival to bring out something that had been missing for weeks.
Joel Berry II scored 21 points and UNC hung on late to beat the ninth-ranked Blue Devils 82-78 on Thursday night, capping an emotional performance that included a comeback from a dozen down in the first half.
The Tar Heels (18-7, 7-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) had recently emerged from their first three-game losing streak in four years by beating the only team (Pittsburgh) yet to win a league game. And they had struggled to find much of a confidence-building flow.
Until Thursday, with the Blue Devils (19-5, 7-4) in the Smith Center in front of a crowd operating at ear-ringing levels.
“Once everybody got going,” said Kenny Williams, who matched his career high with 20 points, “we proved to ourselves how good we can be.”
The Tar Heels had four players score at least 15 points, including Pittsburgh graduate transfer Cameron Johnson going for 18 points and 13 rebounds in his first taste of the Duke-UNC rivalry.