CHAPEL HILL (WTVD) -- It's always live when North Carolina and Duke get together of course, but from the jump, this one felt a little more electric at the Dean Smith Center.
There was a feeling of uncertainty beforehand, neither side too confident, the sense that anything was possible.
Even in just the first five minutes, each Tar Heel basket was met with a frenzy of celebration, creating an atmosphere where every shot, every rebound felt game-deciding.
RELATED: Second-half explosion propels UNC past rival Duke 82-78
It would've been easy for Duke's freshmen to wither under that kind of soundwave, but they're too good for that or they were at least for the first 20 minutes.
The first half was a dizzying offensive display by the Blue Devils.
When at their best - they make scoring points look terrifyingly easy.
Layup after dunk, after pull-up jumper, the Devils built a lead, threatening to break the game open.
UNC had answers though. They looked to be holding on for dear life at times, but hold on they did. Kenny Williams came out scorching and Cam Johnson hit for 13 first-half points.
RELATED: UNC fan battling cancer gets bucket list wish
One first-half sequence especially showed that Carolina wasn't going anywhere: Theo Pinson rushing out to block a three-point attempt, scrambling to keep possession before it went out of bounds and then keying a fastbreak that Johnson would cash in with a layup.
At the half, Duke had looked dominant on offense, but Carolina had momentum down 49-45.
Whatever Roy Williams said at halftime, the energy directly transferred to the court.
A Pinson putback, a Williams 3, then a deep Berry bomb highlighted an immediate Tar Heel rush and suddenly Carolina hadn't just seized the lead, they'd seized total control.
Duke had no answers on defense and on offense, things stopped coming so easily. Joel Berry said afterward that Pinson and the UNC bigs made Duke's forwards "shoot over a wall".
When they missed, the Heels were almost always first to the boards and first to every loose ball.
Mike Krzyzewski said UNC's rebounding was the difference and it's hard to disagree.
After getting swamped by Marvin Bagley early (he finished with 16 rebounds), Carolina was dominant off the backboard.
20 offensive rebounds and a 44-38 advantage overall despite a steep size disadvantage. Cam Johnson was spectacular, grabbing 13 rebounds of his own, something that he told me was a combination of "luck and effort".
North Carolina had struggled of late and staring down 3 games in 5 days against Duke, State, and Notre Dame, this seemed a make or break week for the Heels.
After what we saw tonight, this team is a lot closer to making some March noise than they are to breaking.
Ask Theo Pinson.
"We've seen everything. We never panic. As we always say, we control our own destiny." State awaits in Raleigh on Saturday. They're gonna get a hungry and happy group of Heels.
These Heels don't flinch
More TOP STORIES News