Duke, Curry sink North Carolina in a hurry

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Seth Curry's fantastic start made sure there was no thrilling finish in this Duke-North Carolina matchup.
Curry scored 18 of his 20 points in the first half and teammate Mason Plumlee joined in with a big second half as third-ranked Duke, which scored the first 14 points of the game, rolled to a 69-53 trouncing of rival North Carolina in Saturday night's regular-season finale at the Smith Center.
"I wanted to come in and set the tone for my teammates that we could win in this environment," Curry said.
Plumlee's 23 points and 13 rebounds aided Duke's cause.
There wasn't much more than bragging rights at stake for the Atlantic Coast Conference rivals, though the outcome should help Duke's quest for a No. 1 regional seed in the NCAA Tournament.
"It's kind of what we needed come tournament time," Plumlee said.
James Michael McAdoo scored 15 points and P.J. Hairston had 14 points for North Carolina (22-9, 12-6), which had won a season-best six games in a row since falling to Duke (27-4, 14-4) last month.
Even though Duke entered the weekend locked into the No. 2 seed for the ACC Tournament, its chances of sharing the regular-season crown with Miami were dashed earlier in the day when the Hurricanes defeated Clemson.
Meanwhile, North Carolina's position as the No. 3 seed was solidified a few hours earlier when Florida State topped North Carolina State.
With that, if both teams win their next games in Friday night's ACC Tournament quarterfinals, they'll meet again in the semifinals.
Curry found plenty of openings in North Carolina's defense.
"Guys set screens for me," he said. "I was able to create some space and get shots off."
North Carolina coach Roy Williams said, "Seth Curry was a huge factor early. He toyed with us. He got any shot he wanted."
Quinn Cook added 12 points as the Blue Devils completed the first regular-season sweep in the series in four years.
"They made shots and we didn't make any shots," Hairston said, referring to the Tar Heels' 33.9 percent shooting from the field (21 of 62).
Duke stormed to a 20-point lead on the strength of torrid shooting before settling for a 42-24 halftime edge. Curry had 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the floor by the break.
"Seth's performance in the first half, he was the best player on the court," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. " ... That's what you need in a game like this."
The Tar Heels missed their first 11 3-point shots. When Hairston bagged the team's first 3-pointer, it capped a 13-2 run that drew North Carolina within 63-49 with five minutes left.
Cook answered with the next two baskets to repel the threat.
Most of the damage had been done earlier.
"They hit us right in the mouth," Williams said. "They made all their shots early. We didn't make many shots. That's one of the characteristics of this team the last three weeks, we made shots."
With Duke leading 26-9, Curry had 13 points, which were two more points than he had in the previous matchup with the Tar Heels.
The Blue Devils shot 69.2 percent from the field 18 of 26) in the first half compared with North Carolina's 27.3 percent (9 of 23).
Guard Tyler Thornton, making only his fifth start of the season, hit a 3-point shot in the first minute as part of Duke's opening 12-0 run. A turnover on the next possession prompted Williams to call timeout at the 17:04 mark, an unusual move for the veteran coach who likes to save his timeouts.
"It probably couldn't have been a better first four minutes," Plumlee said. "Shots were going, but really it was our defense."
The margin grew to 14-0 before McAdoo made a free throw with 16:27 showing on the clock. McAdoo scored seven of North Carolina's first 11 points.
Duke had made 13 of its first 16 shots from the field, with Curry accounting for 7 of 7.
North Carolina swingman Reggie Bullock, who had averaged a team-best 15.3 points per game in ACC outings, was scoreless in the first half. He scored on the first possession of the second half and finished with eight points.
Krzyzewski credited Thornton's defense for helping limit Bullock.
Duke senior Ryan Kelly, playing in his only true road game of the season, wasn't much of a factor compared with his first two games back since an ankle injury sidelined him for nearly two months. He picked up three first-half fouls, finishing with eight points.
Duke had lost two of its last three games away from home, defeating only last-place Virginia Tech during that stretch.
North Carolina's point total was one more than its previous low this season in a 61-52 loss at Virginia in its ACC opener.
NOTES: North Carolina honored senior guard Dexter Strickland in a pregame Senior Night ceremony. He's the lone scholarship senior on the roster. ... Freshman guard Rasheed Sulaimon had been in the starting lineup for all except one game this season until he came off the bench Saturday night. Sulaimon shot a combined 7 of 21 from the field in the previous three games. ... Thornton was 3 of 4 on 3-pointers in last month's game against North Carolina. He had scored a total of 15 points in the six games since then. ... North Carolina has a 132-104 edge in the series. ... Prior to Saturday, North Carolina had won six of the last seven regular-season finales against Duke. ... Duke has a top-three finish in the ACC for the 16th time in a 17-year span. ... McAdoo, a sophomore forward, missed some recent practice time because of soreness in his back, but he was in the starting lineup Saturday night. ... Last year's meeting between the teams in Chapel Hill involved a much-replayed winning 3-point shot by then-Duke freshman Austin Rivers.

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