CHAPEL HILL – The band roared, the cheerleaders called out chants and the North Carolina fans were ready to explode with noise given the opportunity, but the sweetest sound for Duke wasn't much of a noise at all.
The game's last minute was played to near silence as the fans in the lighter shade of blue filed out of the building.
The No. 3 Blue Devils shot 69 percent in the first half, led by as many 20 in the first 20 minutes and resoundingly chased North Carolina out of the Dean Smith Center, 69-53, on Saturday.
Duke guard Seth Curry went wild in the first half, scoring 18 points, while forward Mason Plumlee scored 15 points and added eight rebounds in the second half.
“Seth's performance in the first half – he was just the best player on the court in the first half,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “In the second half, we had the best player on the court in Mason.”
In the meantime, Duke (27-4, 14-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) kept North Carolina's best players from doing anything of the same tune.
The Tar Heels (22-9, 12-6) finished the night shooting under 34 percent from the field. North Carolina didn't score a fast break point and made one 3-pointer, but not until 35 minutes into the game.
Saturday marked the first ever Senior Night loss for North Carolina coach Roy Williams in 35 years as a coach.
North Carolina had a postgame ceremony for its two seniors, but most of the crowd had long since left.
“I'm a little disappointed in those that left,” Williams said. “I thought they would have stayed and listened to our seniors. You can't really complain about those people, but I am really pleased with the students that did stay.
“It was tough. I know it's not easy to sit there after someone kicks you in the rear end like that.”
Plumlee notched his 17th double-double of the season with game highs in both points (23) and rebounds (13).
Curry finished with 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting.
Duke scored the first 14 points of the game and kept a raucous North Carolina crowd from reaching full blast the rest of the way.
Duke hit 10 of its first 12 shots, and Curry hit his first seven shots in a row, running up 18 points in the first half.
Curry made a beautiful mid-range turnaround, two 3-pointers and a shot as he fell backward to the floor, making it apparent North Carolina guard Reggie Bullock couldn't keep up with him.
“I did a terrible job on him in the first half,” Bullock said. “He was making some tough shots. I wasn't sliding my feet quickly enough. He's a good player; I just played terrible defense in the first half.”
As the Tar Heels were forced to adapt to Curry, the lane opened for Plumlee.
With the Tar Heels in desperate need of a run in the second half, the Tar Heels allowed Plumlee to make four buckets from inside two feet in a three-plus-minute stretch early in the second half, stopping cold any prayers of a quick re-entry into the game.
Plumlee credited Curry for giving Duke the push it needed.
“His shooting really got us out front and we never really looked back,” Plumlee said. “Our defense was there as a team, but offensively, he was slicing them up.”
Krzyzewski credited two players, Ryan Kelly and Tyler Thornton, who were quiet offensively but had important defensive games.
North Carolina guard P.J. Hairston scored 14 points with Kelly guarding him most of the time, but he did so on 4-for-12 shooting.
Thornton took the much bigger Bullock out of the game, holding him to eight points.
“I think Bullock's one of the best players in the country, not just the conference,” Krzyzewski said. “He's just a terrific basketball player. We needed somebody who was going to make him work and hopefully make it a little bit more difficult for him, and Tyler had that assignment.”
James Michael McAdoo led North Carolina with 15 points. He hit four of his seven shots in the first half, but the rest of the Tar Heels shot 5-for-26 before halftime.
UNC point guard Marcus Paige regressed after several good games, making one of his six field goal attempts and turning over the ball five times.
The Tar Heels gradually did began to score in the second half, and even cut Duke's lead to 14 points with Hairston's 3-pointer with five minutes remaining in regulation.
On the next possession, however, Duke milked nearly one minute off the clocked and scored to boot. Kelly rebounded his own miss, which let Duke reset. Quinn Cook hit a layup on the second chance, then hit another point-blank attempt following a North Carolina miss, ending the Tar Heels' hopes of an improbable comeback.
The win was Duke's seventh in nine tries against North Carolina, and it was one the Blue Devils felt fortunate to earn because of the Tar Heels' playmakers.
On Saturday, though, the game's top players were rocking black-and-dark-blue uniforms.
“In a game like this, Bullock could take over, and he'd be the best player, or Hairston,” Krzyzewski said. “And it just turned out those two halves, those two kids (Curry and Plumlee) were kind of the difference makers.”
It also bodes well for Duke's national title hopes: All four Duke championship teams and all five North Carolina championship teams won the second meeting of the season between the rivals.
For the Tar Heels, there wasn't much to complain about.
The better team won.
“Duke's defense was stronger than our offense and Duke's offense was stronger than our defense was,” Williams said. “We just have to congratulate them. They played a heck of a lot better and they were by far the better team (Saturday).”
Sports Writer Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or firstname.lastname@example.org