CHAPEL HILL, North Carolina (Ticker) -- Rashad McCants put an end to North Carolina's struggles against Duke.
The freshman scored 26 points as the Tar Heels survived a wild finish and ended a six-game slide against the Blue Devils by closing out Atlantic Coast Conference play with an 82-79 victory.
North Carolina (16-14, 6-10 ACC) assured itself of a winning record and a possible NIT berth. The Tar Heels, who went 8-20 last season, also made certain they would not have to compete in the play-in game of the ACC tournament for the first time.
"To double the win total from last year, I think that shows a lot about this team," Tar Heels coach Matt Doherty said. "And again, this schedule is one of the toughest in the country."
McCants capped a terrific afternoon with a 3-pointer that snapped a 72-72 tie with 1:14 remaining. McCants made 12-of-16 shots and had little trouble shredding Duke's defense.
"After the game, I told him, 'Rashad, you're back to your old self,'" Doherty said. "He was in the flow and guys were looking for him and he took advantage."
Chris Duhon missed a hurried 3-pointer for Duke (21-10, 11-5) on the other end and Jackie Manuel's layup gave North Carolina a 77-72 advantage with 58 seconds left.
The Tar Heels made 5-of-6 free throws in the final 24 seconds, but freshman Raymond Felton had the lone miss with three seconds left. The Blue Devils had no timeouts and got the ball to Dahntay Jones, who nailed a shot from just past halfcourt after the buzzer.
The fans at the Smith Center stormed the court, but officials consulted a replay and correctly ruled that Jones' shot came after time expired. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski already knew the result - he shook hands with Doherty and immediately indicated the shot was no good.
The rivalry's intensity was displayed in a near-fight that broke out with 8:17 remaining. Felton was hit in the mouth by a Duke player and Doherty went to check on him.
Duke assistant Chris Collins began screaming at McCants and Doherty attempted to intervene. Players from both teams congregated and seldom-used Blue Devils reserve Andre Buckner gave Doherty a hard shove before the officials stopped the situation from escalating.
"Things got a little heated there," Doherty said. "That happens, that's part of it. But I thought as crazy as things got, both teams settled down and coach Krzyzewski handled it with a lot of class."
"I don't know exactly what happened," Krzyzewski said. "It really doesn't matter."
Both teams were assessed technical fouls for the incident.
Felton had 18 points and 10 assists and Jawad Williams added 15 points for North Carolina, which won for just the fifth time in 14 games. The Tar Heels also gave a much-needed boost to Doherty, whose job has been rumored to be in jeopardy.
"We came off the mat today and played a great game against a great opponent," Doherty said. "What a gutsy effort. To me it was one of those classic Carolina-Duke games."
North Carolina shot a sizzling 61 percent (19-of-31) in the first half and finished the game at a season-high 56 percent (33-of-59). In addition to McCants' hot shooting, Felton made 7-of-11 shots and the Tar Heels' bench combined to make 8-of-15.
Jones led Duke with 22 points and freshman Shelden Williams collected 20 and eight rebounds. Freshman J.J. Redick made 4-of-11 from beyond the arc for his 12 points.
"I didn't think we played very well in the first half," Krzyzewski said. "I just didn't think we had the intensity to match them."
Despite Williams' production inside, the Blue Devils fired up 3-pointers and paid for that strategy, making 5-of-23 attempts.
The loss by Duke also gave Maryland the second seed for the ACC tournament. The Blue Devils are third.
A runner by Felton just before halftime gave North Carolina a 42-36 advantage. Freshman David Noel's 3-pointer opened a 49-42 lead with 16:35 remaining.
Duke worked its way back and took its first lead of the second half at 61-60 on Williams' basket with just under nine minutes to go. McCants responded with a three-point play and the lead changed hands twice more.
McCants muscled in for a basket and a 72-68 advantage with 5:43 remaining. Williams had a dunk and Daniel Ewing a layup to tie the game for Duke, which held North Carolina without a point with a zone defense until McCants' tie-breaking shot.
"It (the zone) worked pretty well," Krzyzewski said. "We should be able to stop penetration without it."
Manuel scored nine points and Noel added eight for North Carolina, which will be seeded sixth or seventh in the ACC tournament. If the Tar Heels are sixth, they will have a rematch with the Blue Devils.