CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Chris Carrawell strutted off the court and stopped to absorb the sweetest noise a Duke player will ever hear at the Smith Center.
Into the emptiness, Carrawell yelled, "Yeah!" For good measure, he yelled it one more time, and then satisfied, continued his walk to the Duke locker room, where the rest of the Blue Devils were celebrating the first perfect, 16-game season in ACC history.
No. 1 Duke's 81-61 dismantling of No. 14 North Carolina last night, the Tar Heels' worst loss ever at the Smith Center, left the home crowd dumbstruck and the UNC coach grasping for ways to characterize one of the best teams in ACC history.
"I can't use enough adjectives to describe them," Bill Guthridge said of the Blue Devils, who posted their biggest series victory since a 104-69 romp in 1964.
"I can't remember a team that has been such an odds-on favorite to win the national championship as they are. They're head and shoulders above everyone else. We could have beaten a lot of teams tonight, but we certainly couldn't beat Duke."
The Blue Devils (29-1, 16-0), who played without starting forward Shane Battier (ankle), will enter the ACC tournament this week in Charlotte riding a 24-game winning streak. Battier is expected back for Thursday's first-round game.
North Carolina (22-8, 10-6), the third seed in the ACC tournament, wouldn't have to face Duke unless both should reach the championship game.
If that happened, the Tar Heels would do well to repeat their play of the first half last night, and to forget what happened the rest of the way.
The score was tied at 35 when Duke went on one of its runs to put the game away, send the crowd away, and empty both benches of every walk-on in sight. From 35-all, Duke scored 27 of the next 37 points.
Blue Devils forward Elton Brand outscored the Tar Heels by himself in the stretch with 11 points, and his three-point play with 8 minutes, 40 seconds left made it 62-45.
"Once we made that run, they backed down," said Brand, who had 17 points and, with 13 rebounds, led Duke's 52-36 rebounding edge, 22-11 on the offensive glass. "They weren't the same team as [in] the first half."
No, they weren't. For starters, UNC point guard Ed Cota wasn't the same player.
Cota, playing with a sprained right pinkie, had 10 points in the first half, but just two in the second, when he committed four turnovers and missed five of his six shots from the floor.
While Cota struggled, Duke point guard William Avery feasted. Avery scored 13 of his game-high 24 points in the second half and kept Cota from getting into the lane.
Sophomore center Brendan Haywood led the Tar Heels with 16 points, but it wasn't enough for a team plagued by the struggles of Cota and leading scorer Ademola Okulaja, who had 10 points on 3-for-10 shooting in his final game at the Smith Center.
"The only thing they were able to do was hit Haywood, and he converted for them, but we felt if that was what they were going to do, that would be good for us," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
"We spent a lot of time taking Okulaja out of the game because he's their best shooter."
The best all-around player on the court may have been Duke freshman Corey Maggette, who had 14 points and 11 rebounds in 22 minutes.
Before the rout, the first half was a classic, right down to the last shot, a spinning, buzzer-beating three-pointer by Cota that was called off because his foot was out of bounds. Cota had caught a full-court baseball pass from Okulaja with 1.1 seconds left in the half and the Tar Heels trailing 35-33.
Pub Date: 2/28/99