Nor did their performances reflect in the final score.
The second-ranked Blue Devils needed everything they had to put away the 10th-ranked Tar Heels, 89-77. Favored by an astounding 17 points, they needed Trajan Langdon to get hot and North Carolina to get tired.
Langdon discovered his shooting stroke midway through the second half to give William Avery some help while the Tar Heels went cold down the stretch, scoring just one field goal in a key stretch of more than 5 1/2 minutes.
During that time, Duke turned a 68-65 deficit into a 77-69 lead. The Blue Devils eventually built their lead to 85-73 by doing what they hadn't done earlier in the game -- hit some free throws.
The victory was the 15th straight for Duke (20-1 overall, 8-0 in Atlantic Coast Conference), which will have a tuneup Saturday at North Carolina State before playing host to fourth-ranked Maryland next Wednesday night. The defeat broke a three-game winning streak for North Carolina (17-5, 5-3).
"It was a heck of a basketball game," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. "We did not do a good job on the boards in the first half and they seemed to get every second chance. I thought we did a better job defensively in the second half."
Said North Carolina coach Bill Guthridge, "We certainly don't have any moral victories, but we did a lot of good things. They handled situations a bit better than we did and deserved to win."
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of last night's game was the head-to-head battle between two of the top point guards in the ACC. Avery and Ed Cota each led their respective teams in scoring.
Avery finished with 21 points and five assists in 37 minutes, and Cota equaled his career-high of 20 points. He also had seven assists. Avery had more help, as all five starters scored in double figures for Duke.
Struggling with his outside shot for the past two games, Langdon came out of his mini-slump just in time. With Elton Brand (12 points, seven rebounds) held in check by North Carolina's 2-3 zone, the Blue Devils kept looking for their senior captain.
"I was starting to feel a little pressure," said Langdon, who missed his first five three-point attempts. "It was good to hit a couple of shots toward the end and help us win."
Langdon, the top all-time free-throw shooter in ACC history, also clanked a couple of foul shots. That seemed to be contagious, as the ACC's best free-throw shooting team missed 10 of its first 20 from the line before hitting its last six to seal the win.
Conversely, as Duke's defense tightened, so did the Tar Heels. North Carolina committed turnovers on four straight possessions and on six of eight possessions after Ademola Okulaja's 10-foot jump shot had given his team a 68-65 lead with a little under nine minutes to play.
Cota, who had come out of the game earlier with a cramp in his left leg, wasn't effective after he returned.
"They did a good job of denying me the ball," said Cota, who took a career-high 18 shots, hitting eight of them. "But after [the cramp], I had a hard time making my cuts."
Krzyzewski credited two of his least-hyped players, junior forward Chris Carrawell and sophomore center Chris Burgess, for helping the Blue Devils down the stretch. Carrawell had two dunks during Duke's game-breaking run, the first off a steal by Burgess and the other when he picked off one of Cota's passes.
"Burgess gave us a big lift," said Krzyzewski, who has been disappointed by the former McDonald's All-American during his first two years at Duke. "He gave us some fire in the last 10 minutes."
Pub Date: 1/28/99