CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Seth Curry kept burying shots against helpless North Carolina defenders to give No. 3 Duke a big lead, then Mason Plumlee dominated inside to keep the Blue Devils in complete control against their fiercest rival.
This performance was about more than just beating up the Tar Heels. It was the Blue Devils showing they're determined to play their best in March. Curry hit his first seven shots during Duke's torrid start, helping the Blue Devils cruise to a 69-53 victory Saturday night in a game that was never in doubt.
Curry finished with 20 points, while Plumlee had his best performance in a month with 23 points and 13 rebounds. That duo provided Duke (27-4, 14-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) all the punch it needed to earn a season sweep of the Tar Heels.
"You want to be playing at your best going into the tournament and you can't afford a loss at this point in the season where you're questioning your lineups and what your identity is," Plumlee said. "It was the kind of win we needed going into tournament time."
Duke scored the game's first 14 points, never let UNC (22-9, 12-6) closer than nine and led by 25 points after halftime. The Blue Devils shot 55 percent, including 18 for 26 (69 percent) in a first half that silenced a once-rowdy Smith Center crowd and overwhelmed the once-surging Tar Heels.
If Saturday night was any indication, Duke is ready for next week's ACC tournament in Greensboro and beyond. Curry and the Blue Devils came out with a shooting display that ran North Carolina right out of the Dean Dome by halftime. Not to mention it turned the latest renewal of the famed rivalry into a colossal dud.
Curry made one 3, hit a scooping layup and banked in a runner during Duke's 6-for-6 start that helped the Blue Devils to a football-esque 14-0 lead. At one point, he even hit one as he fell backward to the floor, the kind of play that eliminates any doubt about whose night it's going to be.
"Guys set screens for me and I was able to create some space to get shots off, keep the defense off balance, and I was feeling good to start the game," Curry said. "I wanted to come in and set the tone for my team that we could win in this environment."
After Curry made his seventh straight shot, UNC coach Roy Williams practically wandered out near midcourt to shout at his players as they ran down on offense. "He just toyed with us," Williams said. "He was in complete control on the offensive end."
Curry finished 8 for 13 and Plumlee took over inside by making 10 of 15 shots against the Tar Heels' undersized frontline. "Seth's performance in the first half, he just the best player on the court," coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "In the second half, we had the best player on the court in Mason."
In each of the past two seasons, Duke had won the first meeting only to have UNC win the second to clinch the ACC regular-season title. That story line was off the table this time. Miami took care of that by beating Clemson for the outright title earlier Saturday. Duke — which is integrating senior Ryan Kelly back into the lineup after a two-month absence due to a foot injury — had already clinched the No. 2 seed for the ACC tournament. North Carolina State's loss at Florida State meant the Tar Heels would be the No. 3 seed but could still tie Duke for second in the standings.
Instead, it turned into a reversal of last year's finale at Cameron Indoor Stadium, where the Tar Heels jumped all over the Blue Devils early in a blowout win. It was the first "Senior Night" loss for Williams as a head coach, both at Kansas and at North Carolina.
UNC had gone 6-1 since going to a four-guard lineup in that first meeting, but the Tar Heels looked rattled once the Blue Devils charged in front and never recovered. "I wasn't concerned about the score, but I was really concerned about the look on our face," Williams said. "I felt like every shot we took we were hesitant or tight ... but I didn't like the way we looked on every shot we took. We never got out of that hole."
James Michael McAdoo finished with 15 points to lead the Tar Heels despite playing with a bulging disk in his back, but the rest of his teammates did little to help him. The Tar Heels all too often settled for jumpers and didn't seem interested in attacking the rim on the way to shooting just 34 percent.
That included missing their first 11 3-point tries and finishing 1 for 14 from behind the arc, an area where they had thrived since Williams inserted 6-foot-5 sophomore P.J. Hairston into the starting lineup at the 4-spot.
Hairston finished with 14 points on 4-for-12 shooting and hit the Tar Heels' only 3 to cut the deficit to 63-49 at the 5-minute mark. But Quinn Cook answered with two driving baskets, the second a hanging shot that dropped through as the shot clock expired and took back any fleeting momentum North Carolina had built.
Cook scored 12 and completely outplayed UNC freshman point guard Marcus Paige, who regressed from his recent strong play with four points on 1-for-6 shooting and five turnovers. "We did keep fighting, and we never gave in," Hairston said. "We still played offense and still tried to make shots, and we still tried to do different things on the defensive end to slow them down. They were just making everything they put up."