The North Carolina men’s basketball team rallied past No. 5 Duke Thursday night 74-66 in front of a raucous Smith Center crowd to improve to 19-7 overall and 9-4 in the ACC.

With the loss, the Blue Devils fell to 21-6 on the season and 10-4 in conference action.

“I just love kids that just keep playing, just keep coming at you, just keep coming at you. […] It’s a fun group. It really is a fun group,” UNC Head Coach Roy Williams said after the come-from-behind win.

Carolina seized the early 6-0 lead, taking advantage of a couple Duke turnovers. But the Blue Devils began to seize control of the game midway through the first half with consistent offensive production, taking a 37-30 advantage into the locker room.

Leslie McDonald found his shot. His 11 first half points kept Carolina hanging around in the contest while the rest of the team struggled to find its form. Duke’s Rodney Hood sprinted out of the gates with a hot hand, finishing with 11 points in the opening half.

McDonald found his game (Todd Melet)

McDonald found his game (Todd Melet)

Despite only hitting 50 percent of their foul shots in the game, the Tar Heels continued to battle on the defensive end, producing key stops to stay in contact midway through the second.

Per usual, Marcus Paige emerged from his slumber in the closing minutes with determined forays to the basket. All in all, Paige finished with 13 points, all in the second half.

Down the stretch, it was Carolina’s intensity and passion that won out. Duke’s players surprisingly appeared shell-shocked as their shooters went cold, only managing to fire at a 35 percent clip in the closing half. That was down from an impressive 50 percent in the opening 20 minutes.

Clutch free throws from Britt and Paige ultimately delivered the victory to the Tar Heels in this 237th meeting of the Tobacco Road Rivalry.

The Smith Center was electric (Todd Melet)

The Smith Center was electric (Todd Melet)

McDonald led the scoring charge for UNC with 21 points while Paige and McAdoo reached double figures, respectively.

For the Blue Devils, it was balanced scoring with Jabari Parker and Tyler Thornton each posting 17 points to lead the team. Hood wasn’t too far behind with his 16-point contribution, but it wasn’t enough to beat Carolina on a night when Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said his team lacked the “life” it needed to match the Tar Heel intensity.

Carolina won the opening tipoff and  McDonald nailed an open three-point jumper right away to grab the 3-0 lead for the Tar Heels.

A travel was called on the Blue Devils the other end, and James Michael McAdoo scored in dominating fashion on the other end to ignite the crowd.

J.P. Tokoto drew a foul on the next Tar Heel possession, making one of the free throws to give UNC the 6-0 lead with 18:36 to play.

Duke got in the board with a couple made foul shots by Rasheed Sulaimon. A questionable charge call was made on Carolina soon after, handing the ball back to the Blue Devils.

With 15:56 to play, Carolina held the 6-4 edge. Rodney Hood came out of the media timeout and tied the game with a play inside.

Hood hit again, this time from deeper out to again knot the contest up at eight points before he hit one from behind the arc to give the visiting Blue Devils the 11-8 lead.

Tokoto responded with a score on the other end to trim the lead down to one at 11-10 with 13:45 to go in the first half.

Hood was proving too much for Carolina to handle early on as he score again on a fall away jumper. But this time, Desmond Hubert answered with a score of his own.

Hood taking it to the rim (Todd Melet)

Hood taking it to the rim (Todd Melet)

McDonald drained a deep shot as the shot clock expired to place the score at 18-16 in favor of Duke with under ten minutes to play in the opening half.

Kennedy Meeks entered into the scoring fray next to tie the game at 18 with 8:55 on the first half clock. McDonald delivered once again with an aggressive play around the rim to give the Tar Heels the 20-18 advantage, but the Blue Devils came roaring right back with a score and a foul.

With 7:46 to play in the half, Duke held a 22-20 lead in the game.

Parker forced his way inside for a physical score. Carolina’s Isaiah Hicks answered right back with a beautiful make as the tempo continued to be locked in at a rapid pace.

Poor foul shooting continued to plague Carolina as they failed to convert on numerous trips to the charity stripe as the clock was winding down on the half. In total, the Tar Heels were an atrocious 1-8 from the foul line at the 3:25 mark in the first half.

Tokoto broke the train of free throw misses with a pair of makes to close the gap down to 29-26. But it was brief, as Parker jammed one home on the other end to extend the Blue Devil lead back out to five.

Parker followed up a couple foul shot conversions by Joel James with a put away at the rim. Duke was leading 33-28 with 1:40 to play in the half.

Duke’s Amile Jefferson picked up his third foul right before halftime. Nate Britt converted on both of his free throws, taking full advantage.

But the Tar Heel defense was having trouble stopping the dynamic attack of the Blue Devils. At the half, Carolina was trailing Duke 37-30.

McDonald was leading all Carolina scorers with 11 points at the half while Duke’s Rodney Hood put up 11 points on his own to lead his team at the intermission.

Duke was shooting 50 percent from the floor while Carolina was shooting at a 44 percent clip from the field.

Jefferson opened up the second half with a smooth slider that found the nets to give Duke the 39-30 advantage.

McDonald found a lane and took it. It was 39-32. Coach Williams was all fired up after that play.

Paige darted to the basket for a quick score after a timeout to reduce the arrears down to 39-34 with 18:15 remaining.

Quinn Cook’s floater went down for Duke while Meeks continued to battle in the paint for the Tar Heels, earning a trip to the foul line. He made both in clutch style.

McAdoo stepped up and finished a play off a sharp Tokoto pass. With 17:03 on the clock, Duke held the 43-38 lead.

Cook hit a beautiful three-pointer to silence the crowd and push the Blue Devils out to a 49-40 lead with 15:41 on the clock.

Brice Johnson was inserted back into the contest after his three early fouls,  finding his way to the free throw line, making one.

Tokoto scored on an athletic move to the basket to stir up the crowd once again and close the gap down to 52-45 with 13:03 to play.

Johnson picked up his fourth foul at the 12:23 mark and took a seat on the bench.

McDonald threw the ball away with the Blue Devils maintaining a 53-47 lead with 11:37 to go in the contest.

Both teams were applying good defensive pressure as the intensity began to ratchet up midway through the second half.

Tokoto threw in an emphatic jam to the delight of the Smith Center faithful. The Tar Heels only trailed 53-49 with 10:27 remaining.

Hubert battled his way to the line, but he missed both. The Carolina defense was keeping them in the game though with spirited play.

Both teams were finding it hard to find a basket as the pressure was building. Carolina eventually broke through thanks to a Johnson make that closed the gap to 53-51 with 6:40 to play.

Cook found a lane and made an easy layup out of a timeout to give the Blue Devils the 55-51 advantage. Tyler Thornton picked up his fourth foul with 6:06 to play, sending Johnson to the line. He converted on both.

Paige knocked down a three-pointer that closed the margin down to 57-56 with five minutes to play, but Duke popped a three-pointer on the other end to go up 60-56.

Tar Heels displayed uncommon tenacity (Todd Melet)

Tar Heels displayed uncommon tenacity (Todd Melet)

McDonald earned a trip to the free throw line on the ensuing possession and hit both. The game was tied off a McAdoo make with 4:14 to play in the contest and a timeout was called.

McDonald popped a jumper to take the lead for Carolina with 3:30 to play. A charge was called on Duke on the following possession. With 2:41 remaining, Carolina held a slim 62-60 advantage over Duke.

Paige hit a clutch jumper out of the timeout to give the Tar Heels a 64-60 lead. Johnson fouled out of the game on the next possession, giving Parker a trip to the line. He made both in hostile conditions.

Paige wanted the ball in his hands, and he delivered with another scorching jumper through the nets. Duke continued to miss.

With 48 ticks remaining, Duke chose to foul Britt. He made both in the pressure cooker. 68-62 in favor of the Tar Heels.

Duke responded with an efficient score that wasted no time. A timeout was called with UNC clinging to a 68-64 advantage with 42 ticks remaining.

Britt was hacked again. And he made both free throws to give Carolina the 70-64 lead.

Paige got the ball smartly at the end and closed out the game in style. Carolina emerged the rivalry game winner. Their eighth straight win was celebrated with a rushing of the court by alumni, fans and students.

Smith Center bedlam (Matt Oakes)

Smith Center bedlam (Matt Oakes)

Next up for the Tar Heels is a Saturday noon meeting with Wake Forest back in the Smith Center.

Click here for the full game photo gallery.

Final Box Score