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Off the cuff: That was why Carolina wanted Cormac Ryan from the transfer portal. The fire, the experience, the shooting ability. It all came together in perhaps the biggest game of his career - so far.

Beating Duke at Duke is big enough but when it's for the ACC regular season title, that's big.

"It's fun to win these games," Ryan said. "iI was one of our goals to win the regular season...

"It was an incredible victory for us. We're happy but not surprised."

A lot of the prognosticators were surprised. The Blue Devils were four-point favorites with a 70 percent chance to win. Now I'm sure the same predictors will have Duke as the favorite to win the ACC Tournament. Maybe that will motivate the Tar Heels.

"This team has wanted to be a team from the jump," Coach Davis said. "They collectively worked hard together. This is a team and they wanted to be one."

After this game, both coaches mentioned loose balls - how UNC got them and Duke didn't. Some of them led to break out points for the Heels while others came following what Duke felt were their bad shots. Carolina outscored Duke 19-6 on fastbreak points.

It wasn't the best game for either RJ Davis or Armando Bacot, who combined for just eight baskets on 23 attempts.

But, besides Ryan's 31 points and Harrison Ingram's 14, the Heels got good production from the bench, notably Seth Trimble and Jae'Lyn Withers. Trimble played good defense and hit three big baskets while Withers six points, eight rebounds and a block in only 12 minutes of play.

Cadeau, who was in foul trouble and played just 21 minutes, made the engine run early but he also turned the ball over four times.

The good thing about this team is that there are several players who can put the team on their backs. Ingram did that for parts of the game against Duke but it was Ryan who made this his game.

By the way, Filipowski, who picked up his fourth foul, with nearly seven minutes to play, should have fouled out - about three times.

Carolina 84, Duke 79
Ryan leads Heels over Duke to ACC title

(Photo by UNC Sports Information)

After six seasons in college, Cormac Ryan had the game of his life by scoring a career-high 31 points, including six threes, to lead North Carolina to an ACC regular season title with an 84-79 at rival Duke. (3/9)

"I love to play in these environments," Ryan said. "This game meant a lot to us. We didn't want to share the title with anyone... Winning outright in this building is something special."

Ryan set the tone early by swishing three triples in the first four minutes to force Duke to take a timeout with the Tar Heels up 15-4.

The Heels extended the lead to 15 on three different occasions in the first half. A Jalen Washington dunk made it 21-6. An Elliott Cadeau layup high off the backboard made it 27-12 and an RJ Davis three put the Heels up 30-15.

Duke didn't go away getting threes from McCain and Proctor to help the Blue Devils cut the halftime margin to nine at 40-31.

A quick Duke spurt at the beginning of the second half, led by Kyle Filipowski, who scored seven points in less than two minutes, put the Blue Devils right back in the game. After Jeremy Roach hit a three from the top of the key, the Tar Heels led by just one at 43-42 with 16:55 still left in the game.

But the resilient Tar Heels went on a quick 9-1 run of their own to get back control of the game with a 52-43 lead. Highlighting the run was an old-fashioned three-point play by Armando Bacot, who backed in, scored and was fouled.

The lead hovered around six to 10 points most of the remainder of the game. A long two by Cadeau at the end of the shot clock with 40 seconds left seemed to wrap it up at 80-72. But Duke scored seven points in 35 seconds to make it close at the end.

Carolina game hero Ryan hit four straight free throws late in the game to help keep Duke at bay.

"We competed and fought," UNC coach Hubert Davis said. "We had the will, the effort, the want-to, everything you have to have to win a game like this on the road against Duke. I really wanted wanted our guys to be ACC champions alone and they are."

Harrison Ingram, the other starting transfer player, was the only other Tar Heel in double figures as he scored 14 points and pulled in 10 rebounds.

Duke, who end the regular season with a 24-7 overall record and a 15-5 mark in the ACC, was led by Filipowski's 23 points and Jared McCain's 19 points.

"We took some tough shots that led to them getting some run outs," Duke coach Jon Scheyer said, adding that the Devils may have gotten caught up in the senior day activities. "We're hurt and disappointed but our guys always respond." He said he expects his team to regroup and be refreshed for the ACC Tournament.

The Tar Heels improve to 25-6 overall and 17-3 in the ACC. Carolina goes into next week's ACC Tournament in Washington, DC as the No. 1 seed. With that, they'll face the winner of the 8 vs. 9 game at noon on Thursday, March 14.

Box score

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