Grayson Allen scored 25 points for No. 18 Duke on Thursday night.
Luke Kennard added 20 points and freshman Jayson Tatum had all 19 of his in the second half to help the Blue Devils (19-5, 7-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) win their fourth straight.
WATCH: Joel Brown reports from the celebration on Duke's campus
"Grayson had an amazing game," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Jayson in the second half was kind of lights out."
And all of a sudden, Duke looked more like the team that began the season as a national title favorite.
"We all grew up tonight," Kennard said. "We were all together, we were all tough and very unselfish."
Justin Jackson scored 21 points and Joel Berry II finished with 15 for the No. 8 Tar Heels (21-5, 9-3), who were just 10 of 18 from the free throw line - 8 of 15 in the second half - in dropping into a first-place tie with Florida State.
"We shoot it great in practice, it was just one of those nights," UNC coach Roy Williams said.
This renewal of one of college basketball's fiercest rivalries lived up to its pedigree, with 17 lead changes, nine ties and neither team leading by more than eight points.
With former Duke greats Christian Laettner and J.J. Redick looking on from the crowd at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Allen hit the most important shot of the night, a 3-pointer over Jackson with about 1:15 left to put the Blue Devils up 80-75.
After Berry hit two free throws with 1:02 left to pull the Tar Heels within three, Duke played keep away and that set up an open 3-pointer for Tatum that bounced high off the back iron. Matt Jones beat Berry to the rebound and Frank Jackson then hit a free throw to put the Blue Devils up 81-77.
Berry raced down court and missed an up-and-under layup, and Tatum grabbed the rebound with about 20 seconds remaining to put Duke in control.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams called not getting that long rebound "probably the biggest disappointment."
Grayson Allen is the 1st Duke player to make seven 3-pointers vs. UNC since Jay Williams in 2002. pic.twitter.com/A25yT9HW6S— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 10, 2017
The Tar Heels, who entered as the nation's second-best team on the offensive boards, couldn't turn enough of their misses into second-chance points. North Carolina, which averages more than 16 offensive rebounds, matched a season low with seven while Duke chased down 24 of UNC's misses.
Of course, it didn't help that the Tar Heels played without starting forward Isaiah Hicks, the team's No. 3 scorer and rebounder who strained a hamstring during practice Wednesday.
"I didn't like our rebounding," Williams said. "I didn't like the lack of scoring from inside."
Interesting from Coach K; said this game win or lose can "give you a loss" bc there's so much attention. Said Duke beat a great UNC team.— Ngozi_ABC11 (@Ngozi_ABC11) February 10, 2017
This looked more like the Blue Devils team that was picked No. 1 in the preseason, and for good reason - all their components, players and coach alike, were healthy. The result was the marquee victory to date on Duke's NCAA Tournament resume.
The Tar Heels have the weekend off and visit another Triangle rival - North Carolina State - on Feb. 15.
The Blue Devils face a quick turnaround, with Clemson coming to Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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